Currently viewing the tag: "First Responders"

Joan Bittner Fry

Recently, I was invited to a place less than five miles from my home in Sabillasville that I didn’t know existed. I found one of the most uplifting surprises. There, in plain view, was a sign that said Heroes Ridge at Raven Rock.

In the past, you may have known it as Raven Rock Lutheran Camp.  Heroes Ridge now provides a retreat for wounded, injured, and ill-combat Veterans, first responders, and their families. 

The reason for my visit was to take a picture of a few of the fellows from the Sons of American Legion of Post 239 in Cascade, who were presenting a check to Operation Second Chance’s Heroes Ridge. We were met by Cindy McGrew, CEO and Founder of Operation Second Chance (OSC), which began in 2004.

Cindy’s interest in Veterans began early in her life, but was fully realized as she supported seven injured soldiers and their families at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. As OSC helps heroes move on, Heroes Ridge provides rest, recreation, and tranquility for Veterans, first responders, and their families. Since May, 268 persons, including 6 firefighters from Sarasota, Florida, have stayed at the camp, as well as Veterans, families, and Gold Star Mothers (women entitled to display a gold star on a service flag as the mother, stepmother, adoptive mother, or foster mother of a United States Armed Forces member who died while engaged in action against an enemy recognized by the Secretary of Defense).

Heroes Ridge came to be through the generosity of Mrs. Nahrgang, widow of a Marine, who made the purchase of Heroes Ridge a reality in 2019. The family lived in Columbia, Maryland, with their only child, who passed away in a car accident before his 19th birthday. When Mrs. Nahrgang passed away in her nineties, she graciously left her estate to OSC. This was the foundation for building the Veteran retreat, a property that was originally a church camp and privately owned since 2007.

Mrs. Nahrgang felt a connection to Cindy McGrew after receiving a warm letter of thanks and a token of appreciation after the donation of some simple furniture. The power of kindness, appreciation, and support for our Veterans is how Heroes Ridge was created.

There are many ways for you to get involved: providing professional assistance, volunteering for an Eagle Scout project, mailing a check, joining the OSC mentoring leadership program, volunteering, or providing Immediate or Phase 2 needs. Contact for further information.

Needless to say, the gift from Sons of American Legion to Heroes Ridge was graciously accepted and those who visited that day know it will be put to good use. 

Pictured are Cindy McGrew, founder and CEO of Heroes Ridge at Raven Rock, and members of Post 239 Cascade American Legion, Jim Bittner, Larry Sanders, and Butch Wilhide.

PTSD is having an impact on first responders all across the United States. A new documentary is being developed to tell the story. Filmmakers, Conrad Weaver, of Emmitsburg, and Nancy Frohman are working on the documentary to shed light on this ongoing issue that has often been ignored or glossed over.

PTSD911 will be a feature-length documentary telling the stories of firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and 911 dispatchers who are struggling with the effects of years of encountering severe traumatic incidents. Suicide rates among first responder groups in the United States are much higher than the general population. In 2016, 139 firefighters died by suicide. In 2019, 228 police officers died by suicide, nearly twice the number of officers who died in the line of duty. Both firefighters and police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. Many first responders self-medicate with alcohol or other self-destructive and abusive behaviors in an effort to cope with the stress and trauma they deal with daily.

Weaver says the film will help educate the general public about the stressors first responders face, “We expect them to show up when we call and take care of us when we’re at our worst. We know they are heroes, but we don’t realize that many are in trouble themselves!” Weaver hopes the film will not only raise awareness, but also inspire systemic changes in agencies that don’t have adequate support systems in place to care for members who are suffering from post-traumatic stress.

The film project has been endorsed by a number of organizations who provide help and training for first responders, including Concerns of Police Survivors, the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Blue HELP, the National Emergency Number Association, and others; a complete list can be found on the film’s website at

The filmmakers recently released a teaser trailer for PTSD911, and they have launched a crowdfunding campaign on ( to raise funds for the production of the film. “We’ll begin working on this as soon as the funds are in place, and COVID-19 restrictions are eased, allowing us to travel more freely. We hope to have the film completed by Fall of 2021,” said Weaver.

To learn more about PTSD911, visit the website at

On Wednesday, August 8, 2018, family members, along with First Responders of Emmitsburg’s local volunteer fire department, the Vigilant Hose Company (VHC), as well as area citizens and civic leaders from across the region, gathered to say farewell to past VHC fire chief Tom White (pictured right), who passed away on Friday, August 3, 2018, at the age of seventy-six. During viewings the previous day at the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home in Emmitsburg, the large attendance was testament to an individual who had placed great importance on community service during his entire lifetime. Having previously held all leadership ranks within VHC over the years, Tom became Vigilant Hose Company’s chief in 1984—the department’s 100th anniversary year.

Chief White was carried to his final resting place aboard VHC’s Engine 63 (a 1989 Pierce custom pumper), which he had helped design and purchase during his years as chief of department. Upon leaving the church, his funeral procession passed along Emmitsburg’s West Main Street and VHC’s stationhouse, where members had assembled to render their final salute while positioned in front of emergency vehicles draped in memorial black bunting.

From the Town Square, the procession continued down South Seton Avenue, pausing briefly while passing the Frederick County Fire/Rescue Museum, owing to Chief White’s past service as president of the Frederick County Volunteer Fire/Rescue Association.  The antique rigs there were also adorned with black bunting, including VHC’s Old Engine 63 (a 1945 Ford pumper). At the cemetery in Thurmont, VHC’s Tower 6 proudly displayed a large American Flag, which waved gently during the graveside service.

Tom was a maintenance specialist with State Farm Insurance Company in Frederick for twenty-three years. He was previously employed by Myers Radio and TV in Emmitsburg. He was a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Emmitsburg, and was a proud Veteran of the Army National Guard. A lifetime member of VHC, he loved spending time at the firehouse, where he could be found brewing the first pot of coffee every morning for the “Coffee Club” and sharing the day’s news and stories of what was happening around town with fellow members. About Tom, VHC’s president and long-time friend, Frank Davis, shared, “He was a firefighter’s fire chief. He would teach and give others the opportunity to learn and lead.” He added, “He was the first fire chief that didn’t work in Emmitsburg (State Farm Insurance in Frederick) and that allowed others to step up and learn the job.”

A lifetime member of VHC, Tom was inducted into the VHC Hall of Fame in 1998 for his distinguished and extraordinary service to the company and the community. He was also past president of the Frederick County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

Tom White in the 2009 Town Parade — VHC’s 125th Anniversary Year.

Hub and Tom in uniform at the fire station’s podium in the 1980s.


Wayne Powell

There’s a house in our small community that’s more than just a house. Even though it’s a house right along Main Street, in fact, many pass it by, never thinking about its importance.

In some ways, it may seem to be a house not all that different than your home. However, it’s a house that is very different than most others in Emmitsburg and beyond.

It’s a house where you can hear the phone—a rather special phone, it is at that—and you can’t escape its ring no matter where you might try to hide, for you always have to answer it, even at dinner time.

The nature of the chores in this house are, at times, pretty much just like everyone else’s: wash the floors, clean the sinks, dust the shelves, run the washer, scrub the toilets, put away pots and pans, shop, keep records, pay the bills;  yet, it’s a house where training videos—not DVD or VHS movies—line the shelves on either side of the television.

For those who reside there, it’s their “Home away from Home,” as they say. And, it’s about the only house in greater Emmitsburg where the announcement “fire” does not lead to panic. In fact, that term, “fire” just means it’s time to go to work.

But, in this house, there’s something very special…no, it’s not a collection of photos—albeit, some of those old pictures take the folks back, just like photos in your albums do—and it’s not the computers or the TV’s or even the super large red machines that fill much of the first floor. No, it’s the people there who make it so special. The fact that they’re committed to helping others is what makes this house so very special, indeed. All in all, it’s a pretty amazing place, especially in these interesting times in which we all now live. As you’ve likely already figured out by now, we’re talking about a house that is actually YOUR house, too. Yes, that’s right, the community’s firehouse!

Those at this house, the firehouse, certainly are “family,” and just like everyone else’s family, they have some interesting characters, too. Plus, just like you, they take pride in their home and all that’s in it—especially the people!

Little ol’ fire station number 6 runs with the pace and precision of a beehive. The long-ago Norman Rockwell-like image of those who inhabit houses like this community’s firehouse no longer sit around playing cards or checkers all day—an image of a by-gone era.

In fact, sometimes they feel they have enough to keep them busy even if they never got called out—with training and paperwork, and fundraisers and paperwork, and cleaning and paperwork, vehicle maintenance and paperwork, and the endless certifications and equipment checks, and, of course, in case it wasn’t mentioned, there’s all that paperwork, too.

Their radios blare, yet they all seem to block out most of the routine buzz, unless it’s something close or unusual or profound; then, yes, they listen intently. And, they always listen for Number 6 to be called upon when it’s their turn to help others in danger. They are proud to do their duty, just like firefighters in our country have been doing for more than 375 years—yes, all the way back to Peter Stivincent in New Amsterdam, or New York as it’s called today.

What’s amazing is that those in that house do what they do for free. Yep, no pay! No stipend, no fee per call, not even an honorarium for preparation time or travel time.  And, oh yes, they still make house calls!

If you’re a person who doesn’t like to be woken up from a sound sleep, or someone who just can’t handle working outdoors on bitter cold winter nights, or for that matter, blistering hot summer afternoons, or perhaps you are just one of those who needs time to ponder, plan, sort, think, re-think, then review your options before initiating an action, then this sometimes hectic pace necessary for the required rapid-fire decision-making may be a bit much to handle.

But, thank goodness there are those who somehow take all these and many other challenges in stride and are willing to do the right thing. In fact, a review of history of this region finds that there’s been these type of folks here for well over 135 years, who have been, and still are, there when the community calls upon them for help.

That house, and those in it, routinely make a difference in the lives of others, even those they don’t know. The men and women of this particular house stand ready—on a moment’s notice—to help when and where needed. And, the rest of us are so very lucky they do.

If you would like to better understand the critical role that volunteer ‘First Responders’ in communities just like ours do every day to help others, I encourage you to watch this superb 5-minute animated video ( that tells those in the community the value of their volunteer fire and emergency services personnel.

Local Emmitsburg Vigilant Hose Company (VHC) First Responders played important roles on Friday, January 20, 2017, in Washington, D.C., during the Presidential Inauguration. Neither political nor partisan in nature, their public safety duties included filling in at a District of Columbia fire station, due to the fact that the City’s normal call volume can increase three-fold on this particular day every four years, plus many D.C. emergency services units are committed to responsibilities directly associated with the day’s public events (from which they cannot be easily released). Emmitsburg personnel, along with other emergency personnel from Frederick County’s emergency services, were approved for their unique duty assignments (after having been cleared to serve by the U.S. Secret Service, the DCFD, and our own Frederick County Government / Department of Fire and Rescue Services).

Frederick County provided a total of four ambulances, two engines, two ATV’s, and a Battalion Chief. VHC members staffed Emmitsburg’s Engine 63 and were assigned to D.C. Fire and EMS Station 20, located in the Tenleytown section of the City (on Wisconsin Avenue, just south of Tenley Circle in upper northwest), plus special assignments like staffing an EMS ATV (all-terrain vehicle) near the Washington Monument and driving an ambulance stationed along the parade route.

VHC Chief Chad Umbel, who for weeks helped plan the support effort, said, “It was a great honor for our small department to be selected, and our people were treated very well,” adding that, “their day started before 4:00 a.m., not getting back home until 9:00 p.m., followed by cleanup of the unit. It was something our personnel are certain to always remember.”
Leading the crews were VHC Lieutenants Alex McKenna and Doug Yingling, along with President and former Chief Frank Davis, who drove the Engine. In addition to Davis, McKenna, and Yingling, staffing Engine 63 and accomplishing related duties in the Nation’s Capital were VHC Firefighters Matt Boyd, Vance Click, Greg Sterner, Shawn Wetzel, and Dave Zentz.
Adequate coverage here on the home front was planned for in advance, knowing that a number of VHC’s operational response personnel were helping to assure an orderly transition of American power—a hallmark of the nation’s democracy.

VHC Engine 63 became ‘Engine 906’ for the day, their assigned designation under the Washington Council of Governments’ regional emergency services plan (Frederick County units use the ‘900’ series while each county in the metro area has its own unique designation to avoid confusion in the event of a major regional disaster.

Pictured left to right are Matt Boyd, Shawn Wetzel, Greg Sterner, Dave Zentz, and Alex McKenna.