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Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage

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Burn Prevention Network, Valley Preferred and the Regional Burn Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital launched the Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage Award Program in 2005 to honor everyday heroes who risked their lives to save others from injury or death by fire; To acknowledge individuals and groups that have done an outstanding job of promoting fire safety or burn prevention education, and to recognize burn survivors who have dedicated their lives to supporting others.

Honor Our Heroes
Due to Covid-19, the 2020 Spirit of Courage awards will be streamed on WFMZ. We are working hard to finalize a date in October.

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  • Attorney Robert Hobaugh and Florita Hobaugh
  • Hamed Amani, MD, and Sigrid Blome-Eberwein, MD
  • Gregory G. Kile and Family
  • Dr. Daniel and Rochelle Lozano
  • Donald R. Miller and Granddaughter, Alexia Marie Miller
  • Joe and Karen Tracy

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Nominate a Hero

Awarded to individuals, deemed as Essential Workers, that have performed exceptional service during the Covid-19 crisis. Three finalists will be featured during the Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage Awards Program streamed by WFMZ. Viewers of the Awards Program will determine by vote which one will be proclaimed the Essential Worker of the Year. Voting will open on the Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage web page immediately following the end of the program and will continue for 24 hours. The winner will then be announced live via Burn Prevention Network social media platforms. Any essential worker may be nominated and may receive this award. The essential worker’s exemplary performance must have occurred between – January 15, 2020, and September 15, 2020.


Awarded to individuals or groups that have performed exceptionally courageous
acts to save someone from death or serious injury from any fire source. Civilians
and first responders may receive this award. The rescue attempt must have
involved a significant degree of personal risk – exposure to either death or severe
injury – occurring between May 1, 2019, and April 30, 2020.

Awarded to individuals, groups or organizations that have done an outstanding job
educating community members about fire safety and burn prevention. Special
consideration given for reaching large numbers of target populations or for service
over an extended period.

Nominations due by May 3rd, 2020.


Meet Our 2019 Heroes

Partners In Prevention Award Winner:

Matthew Brett
Chief, Kempton Fire Company
Nominated by Amy Muzopappa, BS, NRP, president, Boyertown Lions Community Ambulance Service

Matt Brett has been involved with burn prevention and fire safety for the past 31 years, and has coordinated these efforts for Kempton Fire Company for the past 20 years. Each year Kempton Fire Company educates about 250 students from kindergarten through fifth grade at three local schools, hosts multiple scouting groups and participates in education and outreach at fairs, churches and civic events. They emphasize the importance of smoke detectors, including testing and replacing batteries, and use the Burn Prevention Network Fire Safety House to simulate an authentic fire experience with smoke and reduced visibility. Their efforts clearly paid off last year when Marcela Marcune-Brown remembered what she had learned at school and led her younger sister to safety during a house fire.


Spirit of Courage Award Winner: 

Marcela Marcune-Brown
Hamburg, Pa.
Nominator: Matthew Brett, chief, Kempton Fire Company

Marcela and her younger sister, Coral, were asleep in the early morning hours when Marcela was awakened by smoke detectors and her barking dog. Smoke had already filled the house. Marcela stayed calm and crawled until she reached her sister, then the two crawled out of the house with the dog and waited for the fire department to arrive. Smoke detectors that were checked regularly, a practiced exit strategy and a brave girl who didn’t panic saved two people’s lives that morning.

Watch Marcela’s Video

Spirit of Courage Award Winner:

Joseph Fulse
Firefighter, Palmer Township Municipal Fire Department
Nominator: James Alercia, Deputy Chief, Palmer Township Municipal Fire Department

Firefighter Joe Fulse had just left the firehouse after a call and was on his way home when he came upon smoke and fire coming from the rear of a house. Fulse ran through the yard, to the back door. He forced the door open and was hit with a large amount of smoke and fire. It was pitch dark but he could see an elderly man lying on the floor of the dining room, which was fully engulfed in fire. With no protective gear, he fought through deteriorating conditions to reach the man and bring him out to the patio through thick smoke and heat. When Fulse tried to call 911, he was not able to get a signal, so he drove back to the firehouse and yelled to his fellow firefighters who were still there. Amazingly, thanks to Fulse the 94-year-old victim made a full recovery despite sustaining second-degree burns to his arms, shoulder and head.

Watch Joseph’s Video

Spirit of Courage Award Winner:

Christopher Keenhold
Assistant Chief, Bath Volunteer Fire Department
Nominator: Charles Tully, chief, Bath Volunteer Fire Department

In the early morning hours of Jan. 1, firefighters responded to a fire in a rowhome. Three firefighters entered the home from the second floor to begin searching for victims. While on the third floor, interior conditions rapidly worsened, and they were advised to evacuate. While exiting, the second floor experienced a flashover (when an entire area suddenly ignites into flames). One firefighter was able to escape through a third-floor window. Two others became trapped on the second floor. Assistant chief Keenhold entered the building with a working hose line. With flames in his face, he was able to locate the two firefighters. He got the first one out and went back for the second, who had become disoriented. He located the firefighter when he hit him with his hose and led him out. All three firefighters suffered burns.

Watch Christopher’s Video

Spirit of Courage Award Winner:

Joseph J. Stepansky
Chief, Freeland Fire Department
Nominator: Cal Herring, engineer, Freeland Fire Department

On an early February morning, Chief Stepansky responded to a call for a house fire across the street from his home. He donned his equipment, raced to the scene and entered the home to search for the resident he knew was inside. The rear of the first floor was fully engulfed in fire. He searched the front room, and when the fire department arrived,  two other firefighters joined the search but found no one. When the other two attempted to reach the second floor, they encountered intense heat and zero visibility. With pre-flashover conditions existing, one of the firefighters transmitted a mayday while the other firefighter took out a window, where a ladder awaited. They tried to reach it but were driven back to the floor by the intense heat. Chief Stepansky entered the home and began calling for them. The hand of one of the firefighters emerged through the smoke, and Stepansky pulled him out, while the other firefighter held onto his boot. He was able to get them out to the front porch, where they fell together down the steps. The firefighters sustained burns and other injuries. The resident of the home, who was on oxygen and had numerous stored cylinders that fueled the fire, did not survive.

Watch Joseph’s Video

Spirit of Courage Award Winner:

Todd Heckman
Chief, Williamsport Bureau of Fire
Nominator: Terrence Osborne, fire director (retired), Winslow Township Fire Department

Chief Heckman was off duty and returning home when he saw smoke about a block away from where he lives. He immediately drove to the house that was on fire, where he learned a woman was trapped on the second floor. He entered the home with no protective gear and made it to the second floor, where he began crawling as smoke and fire rolled toward him. He was driven back by the intense heat and smoke. Neighbors brought a ladder to the house just as he heard banging on the second-floor window. Heckman climbed up the ladder, broke the window with his portable radio and called out for the resident. He leaned in and grabbed her, pulling her through the window and onto the porch roof. She sustained burns but was alive, thanks to him.

Watch Todd’s Video

Spirit of Courage Award Winners:

Larry Anderson

Constance Ehrhart
Emergency medical technician
Wellsville Volunteer Fire Company
Nominator: Assistant Chief Che Kerestes, Colonial Park Fire Company

Anderson and Ehrhart were off duty and running errands on a Friday evening when they saw sudden brake lights and sparks on Interstate 83 in front of them. A full-speed, out-of-control tractor trailer slammed into several cars that had slowed for construction, smashing them like an accordian and pinning several against the concrete barrier. One car burst into flames, and another started to burn in the middle of the highway. Wrecked cars and debris littered the road. Anderson and Ehrhart immediately began assessing the situation and tending to victims. The car crushed against the median was fully engulfed in flames, and they couldn’t get near it. Ehrhart ran to the other burning car and found an unconscious man behind the wheel, with flames creeping toward him from the back. She and Anderson, with the help of another bystander, freed the man. Seeing that he had already succumbed to his injuries, they moved him away from the burning vehicle. Meanwhile, other bystanders had removed a critically wounded woman from the front passenger seat. Ehrhart began tending to her wounds with no medical supplies. Many bystanders jumped in to help, as Ehrhart kept people calm and away from danger. She tended to the injured woman and another injured couple, while Anderson moved through the scene to triage and help others who were injured. They stayed on the scene assisting for five hours, talking with bystanders about what they had just witnessed and how to recognize trauma-related problems. In all, three people died – a 24-year-old man and his 16-month old daughter, and a 22-year-old college student – six were hurt and 11 cars crushed in what authorities say was one of the most catastrophic vehicle accidents to occur along the Harrisburg Capital Beltway in 20 years.

Watch Larry and Constance’s Video

Phoenix Award Winner:

Elizabeth Dideon Hess
Licensed clinical social worker and co-director, Camp Susquehanna
Nominated by Leah John, burn survivor, and Jennifer Nagle, RN, Lehigh Valley Health Network Regional Burn Center

Liz Dideon Hess is a burn survivor who has immeasurably touched the lives of other survivors and families. She has made it her mission to help survivors learn to cope with their new reality and to thrive as she has. Liz was a college student studying social work when she was burned in 2003. As a college athlete now in a wheelchair, she faced the same debilitating doubts and fears as other burn survivors. After completing an internship at Lehigh Valley Health Network Regional Burn Center, she followed her heart to become the first Burn Center social worker. During her eight years in this position, she created numerous programs to support survivors and their loved ones as well as Burn Center staff. She initiated the peer support program SOAR (Survivors Offering Aid in Recovery) and a monthly support group to help survivors understand and learn coping strategies for situations they may encounter. She started the burn survivor holiday party to help survivors and families celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy a festive event. She created the Great Balls of Fire Dodgeball Tournament to help send families to the Phoenix Society World Burn Congress every year. Much of her work has been directed toward helping children gain confidence and acceptance. Through the back-to-school program she helps prepare children to return to school and their pre-burn lives. As co-director of Camp Susquehanna, she has helped create a rare environment where children ages 6 to 17 can feel loved and accepted, learn tools for facing everyday challenges, build self-esteem and enjoy summertime fun in a safe environment. Now in private practice, Hess continues to touch the lives of survivors and loved ones, and use her experiences to heal, strengthen and grow those around her.

Watch Liz’s Video


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Become A Sponsor

Sponsor Opportunities

Sponsorships are what enable the Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage to continue and grow. Sponsor levels range from marquee opportunities to partial Table Sponsorships. Review our current sponsorship levels:

Confirm a Sponsorship

Reserve your sponsorship for this year by clicking here and completing the commitment form.

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Click here to have a representative of the Burn Prevention Network contact you to discuss Sponsorship Opportunities.

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Burn Prevention Network Invites You to

Honor Our Heroes
Due to Covid-19, the 2020 Spirit of Courage awards will be streamed on, October 22nd at 6 PM.

The event will include:

  • Award show
  • Voting for the People’s Choice Award

Please RSVP for the 2020 Spirit of Courage awards to receive the link to our streamed event.