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Lower Swatara police officer honored for two heroic acts

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/1/19

Lower Swatara Patrol Officer Ryan Lesko received two heroism awards during the April 17 Lower Swatara Board of Commissioners meeting — for rescuing two people who were trapped in a submerged …

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Lower Swatara police officer honored for two heroic acts

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Lower Swatara Patrol Officer Ryan Lesko received two heroism awards during the April 17 Lower Swatara Board of Commissioners meeting — for rescuing two people who were trapped in a submerged car during a 2017 flood, and for running into a burning Highspire house in 2018 when he learned a baby was inside.

Lesko has been with the department for nearly three years.

“I appreciate these awards. There are other members of my police department that I think deserve these awards as well for other incidents that have occurred. I hope that they get these in the future as well,” Lesko said.

Lower Swatara Police Chief Jeff Vargo presented the awards.

The department’s heroism awards go toward “acts of heroism without regard of personal safety which places the officer in imminent physical danger in his or her efforts to affect a rescue or save a life.”

Floods rocked the area in late July 2017. Over two hours on July 23, nearly 5 inches of rain fell in Lower Swatara, and the township’s storm sewer system couldn’t collect and divert the water.

Just before 7 p.m., police were called to West Harrisburg Pike near First Street. A car was stranded in the floodwaters.

Lesko arrived first. The blue car was submerged and the water had risen to the middle of the doors, but there were two people trapped inside.

“Officer Lesko entered the rising floodwaters without a regard of his own safety and approached the vehicle,” Vargo said.

Lesko rescued the two people from the car. The floodwater crested just below the roof of the car.

“It is without question that Officer Ryan Lesko’s heroic efforts that evening allowed further tragedy to be avoided,” Vargo said.

Just more than a year later, in September 2018, police were called to a house fire on Eshelman Street in Highspire. It was just after 10:30 p.m. when the call came in.

A dress had been in the dryer when Kristen Gassert saw the flames in the laundry room. The family fled, but it wasn’t until they got outside that Gassert realized that her baby daughter, Amarie, was still inside, Gassert told the Press & Journal in October.

Lesko and Highspire Police Officer Josh Reager were the first to respond.

The Gasserts told the police that Amarie was still inside. With flames coming from the back of the house and smoke billowing from inside, Lesko went inside to search for the baby.

There was little visibility inside, and they had trouble breathing. Gassert’s sister, Lauren, knew where the baby was and ran through a side door to rescue Amarie.

Lesko called EMS to treat the baby.

He grabbed his fire extinguisher from his patrol car to try to control the fire that had engulfed the laundry room until firefighters arrived. Lesko was treated for smoke inhalation.

According to Vargo, a hero is “an ordinary person who faces extraordinary circumstances and acts with courage, honor and self-sacrifice.”

“I think you’ll agree with me that Officer Lesko’s actions in both of these incidents fits the definition of hero as I described earlier,” Vargo said. 

The commissioners commended Lesko. Vice President Todd Truntz said he remembered hiring Lesko and being impressed with him during his interview.

Recently, he did a ride-along with Lesko.

“I was again reminded what a good officer we have, and obviously what we saw here tonight confirms that,” Truntz said.