Bordentown Fire Commissioners honor three heroes

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The monthly meeting of the Bordentown Fire District No.2 Commissioners is typically held to conduct business and updates on the department.

But on July 2, business was put on hold to honor three heroes who saved a life.

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The meeting dedicated a portion of that evening to honor Bordentown Fire Department No. 2 Chief Robert MacFarland as well as Tom Capraro and Tyler Schulte who saved an individual’s life in a structure fire on April 16 in Mount Holly.

During the April 16 incident at approximately 6:30 p.m., Chief MacFarland was traveling on Sussex Road in Mount Holly when he observed a fire in the rear of a dwelling. He stopped driving as did another vehicle that contained Capraro, a firefighter from Vincent Fire Company, and his friend Schulte.

They were then advised that a resident was still in the smoke-filled home.

Immediately, and without protective gear, the trio entered the dwelling, located the resident and safely removed the individual from the burning structure.

MacFarland said he was traversing to the fire academy building in Westampton to teach a class when all of the sudden, he heard a dispatch call in his vehicle for a structure fire. As he turned a corner, he saw a smoke column at a nearby residence and residents were waving him down. He said his knowledge and training immediately went into effect.

He asked questions and checked to see if all the residents were out of the home, and was originally told, “Yes,” but MacFarland soon found a man at the back of the residence attempting to extinguish the fire with a garden hose. Fire officials said the incident was believed to be ignited by a propane gas tank from a nearby grill, which fed the flames.

As he escorted the resident to the front of the home, the man informed MacFarland that another resident was still inside. Without hesitation, MacFarland said he entered the residence without any protective fire gear to retrieve the individual.

Soon after, unknown to MacFarland, Capraro and Schulte who are friends and said they were traversing through the area to head to a nearby golf course driving range at the time, said they noticed the smoke column as they passed Rancocas Valley High School.

Capraro, who said he was only eight months certified as a firefighter with the Vincent Fire Company at the time of the incident, drove to the scene with Schulte to assess the situation.

Once at the scene, the a woman informed them that her father was still inside. He and Schulte, a civilian who had no firefighting experience whatsoever, entered the residence behind MacFarland to save the man.

“Once she told us her father was inside, we didn’t even talk about it. We just went in,” said Capraro, whose fire company is located in Burlington County’s Southampton Township.

For Schulte, he was there to back up his friend of more than a decade.

“Basically, all I knew is if Tom was going in, I was going in too,” Schulte said. “It really hit me when the first cloud of smoke started, and it was thicker than I expected. That’s when it got serious, but luckily, we were able to find [the man] real quick and get him out of there just as quick.”

As MacFarland checked the lower level of the bi-level home where the elderly man was believed to be, Capraro and Schutle found the man at the kitchen table inside the residence.

They searched the first floor, went into the kitchen, and located the victim as a shirt was draped over his face to protect him from the smoke, and escorted him outside to safety.

MacFarland said the extra assistance during the incident came as a surprise.

“I never even knew [Capraro and Schulte] came in behind me,” MacFarland said. “I eventually heard somebody behind me when I was inside, so when I had heard them, I had yelled that the gentleman was not where the family had said he would be, and as I worked my way back up the stairs, I heard that [Capraro and Schulte] had him as I crawled and met them in the hallway. We all brought [the man] out together.”

In honor of their efforts to rescue the individual, MacFarland received the Firefighter Cross of Bravery, which is awarded to a member who is confronted with personal risk, performed an act of bravery in extreme fire conditions. Capraro and Schulte were awarded a Civilian Life Saving Award for citizens who, at their own risk, enter fire conditions and are principally involved in saving a life of another person.

Following the honorary ceremony at the July commissioners meeting, Capraro said he felt it was nice to recognized, but as a firefighter, he was only doing his job.

“I don’t really look for the recognition,” he said. “It’s what I’m trained to do.”

Capraro revealed that although he may have deemed a “hero” for his efforts, it was not lost on him that his friend who had virtually no firefighting experience to speak of made him the real hero of the day.

“We have been friends our whole lives, and [Schulte] had no business going in there because he’s not trained, so to me, he’s really the hero the whole thing,” Capraro said. “I’m supposed to do this kind of stuff. I’m the one who’s trained to do it and to survive in it, but he is not.

“But because I went in there, he didn’t want to see one of his close friends go in there alon, so he took it upon himself to follow me in there,” Capraro declared.

Capraro also pointed out that the duo’s timing of the incident quintessentially saved the man’s life.

“If we didn’t get the man out of there when we did, it would have been a much different story,” he said. “We got lucky that we were in the right place at the right time.

Although Capraro was appreciative of the efforts alongside MacFarland and Schulte, he noted the most important part of the incident.

“Everybody went home that day,” he said. “We went home to our families and [the man] went home to his. That’s really all that matters.”

Schulte concurred with his friend.

“The recognition is the least important part,” Schulte said. “The best part was being able to talk to the family afterwards, knowing that we had helped save one of their family members.”

For Chief MacFarland, he said he felt the experience was “surreal” at times, and was thoroughly impressed with the duo that came in to back him up.

“It’s very humbling,” Chief MacFarland said. “I’m very impressed with the two young men. I have been doing this for over 30 years, and I’m impressed that a second-year firefighter would so readily and blindly follow me in.

“Tonight is also the first time I met [Schulte]. I didn’t even realize he was in there with us that night. I’m really impressed a civilian would come in,” he said.

Just as MacFarland regained his composure from the thick smoke, he said that the Westampton fire trucks were on the scene moments after and quickly extinguished the flames.

Similar to Capraro’s thoughts, the Bordentown fire chief said that timing and training is what ultimately paid off in the end.

“I think we got lucky, and a lot of that training and experience pays off, and it worked out. A lot of times it doesn’t,” MacFarland said.

As the ceremony at the commissioners meeting concluded, Bordentown Fire Commissioner Chairman Jim Cann was admirable of the above and beyond efforts form the trio of men in this incident.

“What you really hope is that it never happens because that means they put themselves at risk,” Cann said. “The whole idea here is to protect to people and to fight fires, but safely.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that they have the wherewithal to act so unselfishly. To step up and do something where they know they are putting their lives in danger – for me, it’s very humbling. I don’t think enough good things can be said about them,” Cann said.

For Bordentown District No. 2 Fire Captain Keith Scully, the three individuals’ efforts had to be highlighted and recognized for their sacrifice.

“They put their lives on the line to save a civilian,” Scully said. “It’s grateful to honor them. It’s great to see that people will do this type of stuff to save a life when it could cost them theirs.”

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