City honors heroes for helping others
CHAMPAIGN — Heath Fleener speaks very matter-of-factly about how he saved a life.
A week before Christmas, he was working as a security guard and walked into an apartment where 18-year-old Ed Pilcher, a Parkland College student, was without a pulse after a heart attack.
Fleener knew exactly what to do.
He had been an emergency medical technician for years before this happened. He had done it a hundred times, he said. He had already called the ambulance on his way over, so he started CPR while they waited.
"You just do it," Fleener said.
Fleener did not know it at the time, but Pilcher regained a pulse on the ambulance. Then he lost it again. And again. He was shocked back into life three separate times, and it would be another 10 days before he started breathing on his own.
Pilcher's mother, Tammie Wehmhoefer, "called me the next morning and told me he made it through the night," Fleener said. "I couldn't believe it."
It was Fleener's actions that enabled Pilcher to travel from Chicago to watch Fleener and a dozen others receive awards for their heroism during a city council meeting on Tuesday night. Pilcher underwent heart surgery and was on life support for days, but continues to recover.
"If it wasn't for him, we'd be burying my son," Wehmhoefer said.
Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman agreed.
"All involved — nurses, doctors and firefighters — say that if not for Mr. Fleener's selfless and quick action, Mr. Pilcher would not be alive today," Forsman said.
Pilcher's explanation of why he traveled from Chicago to attend the ceremony on Tuesday night was simple:
"He saved my life," Pilcher said.
Tuesday night's event brought out a medley of local heroes, and each was honored for his or her contribution.
Markie Kulovitz and Lauren Gramly were honored for their work in helping police arrest a man who had been recording inappropriate images of children for years. Kulovitz spotted a camera hidden in a coffee shop bathroom in February 2012 and noticed that a man went to retrieve it.
She alerted Gramly, the coffee shop manager, and Gramly called police. The man had left behind his cellphone and personal mail, and police were able to track him to his home, where they found many inappropriate images recorded over a number of years.
Their "keen eyes and willingness to get involved" are to be commended, said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb.
Roman Gordon and Joshua Bennett were recognized for helping to lift a car off a man following an accident in October 2012. As the man's breathing slowed, they and 11 police officers pushed the vehicle off its driver.
"We're talking several tons of weight," Cobb said.
Ashley Robbins and Ross Reiner received awards for comforting a distraught woman while firefighters attended to her unresponsive husband in January.
"This allowed fire personnel to focus on rendering the aid needed to help the husband," Forsman said. "Ashley and Ross stayed with her until our firefighters could take time to be with the wife."
In August 2012, 12-year-old Jessica Mathews spotted flames through a window at Taffie's Restaurant across the street. She alerted her mother, Denise Mathews — who did not believe her at first but immediately called 911 when she found the report to be true. Forsman said the Mathews' call was the only report of the fire that night, and the property loss likely would have been much worse if not for their observance.
University of Illinois Housing Director Jack Collins received an award for his partnership with the Champaign Fire Department in fire safety campaigns in campus housing.
Erin Jones was recognized for using a fire extinguisher to put out a stove fire at an apartment building in August 2012.