Emergency responders honored for rescue

Three rescuers who will be honored at the Lehigh County Burn Prevention Network's Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage annual awards dinner this week are, from left, for Michael Zeshonski, a Clifford Twp. volunteer firefighter; Greenfield Twp. firefighter Nick Bonczkiewicz; and Greenfield Twp. Police Chief Paul Fortuner.

Three rescuers who will be honored at the Lehigh County Burn Prevention Network’s Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage annual awards dinner this week are, from left, for Michael Zeshonski, a Clifford Twp. volunteer firefighter; Greenfield Twp. firefighter Nick Bonczkiewicz; and Greenfield Twp. Police Chief Paul Fortuner.

BY KYLE WIND
Times Shamrock Writer

About 30 seconds after three emergency responders removed a Greenfield Twp. man from his burning, wrecked car, flames consumed the vehicle’s interior.

“It was just like in a movie,” said Michael Zeshonski, a Clifford Twp. volunteer firefighter, of the last-second rescue’s timing.

Zeshonski worked with Greenfield Twp. firefighter Nick Bonczkiewicz and Greenfield Twp. Police Chief Paul Fortuner to get Justin Shelp out of his sedan on March 5.

Now, the Lehigh County Burn Prevention Network is set to honor the trio at Lehigh Valley Hospital on Tuesday for their conduct. Fire chiefs at Clifford and Greenfield fire companies nominated the three for the Valley Preferred Spirit of Courage Annual Awards Dinner, which recognizes people in eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey who risked their lives to save others from a burn or death by fire.

The firefighters described the rescue as a team effort that likely would not have been possible without the efforts of all three men. In response to the 911 call after 12:30 a.m., Zeshonski rounded a corner on Route 106 in Greenfield Twp. and saw “a glow that usually isn’t there.”

It turned out Shelp had lost control of his car, ricocheted off a tree, spun 180 degrees and came to rest near a 5- to 6-foot embankment. When Zeshonski arrived, the back half of the car was on fire and the flames were spreading toward the front.

As he was putting his gear on, “I heard a scream unlike anything I’ve ever heard” and saw Shelp trapped inside, Zeshonski said.

He grabbed his small, 10-pound fire extinguisher as Chief Fortuner arrived in his police car and Bonczkiewicz arrived in his utility truck.

At that point, the car was already “completely engulfed in flames,” Bonczkiewicz said, and the three men worked quickly.

The passenger side of Shelp’s car was inaccessible through the blaze.

Bonczkiewicz approached the driver’s side to find the door had been “pushed a third of the way into the car” from the impact with the tree.

Chief Fortuner retrieved another 10-pound fire extinguisher from his car and, with Mr. Zeshonski, tried to hold back the flames while Bonczkiewicz used a pry bar from his truck on the door.

After Bonczkiewicz removed the window frame, he and Zeshonski pulled Shelp from the car as the police chief continued to stave off the flames.

“The two 10-pound fire extinguishers didn’t do much, but they did just enough to buy us time to pull him out of the car,” Zeshonski said.

The interior of the vehicle provided fuel, and the flames accelerated, hungrily consuming everything inside the car.

“By the time the car was extinguished, the whole thing was pretty much burned up,” Bonczkiewicz said.