Hundreds of people in Berks County began their day inspired by others who made quite a difference in the community over the last year.
Some saved lives; others made lives better. All were honored Thursday morning as heroes by the Berks County chapter of the American Red Cross during its ninth annual Heroes Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing.
The event aims to celebrate heroes who "lived and embodied the values of humanity, voluntary service and unity, which constitute the core of the mission of the American Red Cross."
Alicia Elwell, Dylan Heckart, Katie Heffner, Damon March and Lorraine Storms, members of the Humane Society's Pet Retention Response Team, were honored as animal rescue heroes. The team traveled to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to help pet owners shelter in place or keep their animals with them during evacuation.
"A lot of times these animals will end up sort of lost in the system," said Heckart.
The team members visited neighborhoods ravaged by the storm to provide food and supplies to pet owners who did not evacuate. They also provided supplies to emergency shelters. The effort prevented pets and their owners from becoming separated and helped to reduce the burden on local animal shelters.
Reading Fire Department Deputy Chief Nicholas Amicone was honored as fire safety hero. The retiring Amicone began his career with the department in 1973 and became a full-time, career firefighter in 1977.
"The excitement of it," Amicone said. "I always wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was a little boy."
In his 40 years of service to the city, Amicone was instrumental in assisting with writing the specifications for all of Reading's current front-line apparatus. He has also taught fire training at the volunteer level.
"I think firefighting is always in your blood, so I may not be running calls anymore, but I'll still be listening," Amicone said.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Anthony Garipoli and Trooper Kevin Masinick were honored as law enforcement heroes. Through rapid assessment, prompt action and effective communication, both troopers were able to save the life of an elderly man suffering from dementia.
"Asked which roads he normally takes so we could follow him and look for him along the way," said Garipoli.
The troopers eventually found the man and his minivan in a church parking lot.
"It wasn't until we got closer up behind him that we realized the front wheels were actually on top of his right arm," said Masinick.
The man had gotten out of the van and tripped. The van was not in park, and the wheels started rolling backward, pinning him underneath for five hours before the troopers found him and summoned medical help.
Rodger Gehring and Erik Cleveland were honored as medical heroes for saving the life of an 88-year-old woman whose heart stopped while shopping at the Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing two days before Christmas.
"She was very pale," said Cleveland. "I didn't see any breathing. We were checking pulse. Nothing was there."
"I remember praying, 'Please, Lord, don't let this happen to this woman, not before the holidays. Please don't do this to her family."
Through their training, composure and skill, both men were able to revive the woman for transport to the hospital.
Jaime Hodgson was honored as the 911 dispatch hero for maintaining communication with a suicidal subject for 20 minutes as he wandered around downtown Reading.
"I knew I needed to find out where he was to get him the help he needed," Hodgson said. "I remember him describing parking lots, buildings. I was trying to get anything out of him."
As the man continued to take medication, Hodgson managed to get him to stay in one place so that Reading police officers could locate him and get him the help he needed.
Barry Rohrbach, founder and president of Crime Alert Berks County, was honored as community impact hero. When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, Rohrbach felt compelled to do something. He and his wife rallied both his personal contacts and strangers alike to support the work of those providing aid and comfort to storm victims through the American Red Cross.
"It was a spur of the moment thing, but it was just something that we thought maybe that's what we should do," said Rohrbach.
"We need more Barry Rohrbachs in this world," said Mike Faust, host of WEEU's "Feedback" program.