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Middletown man receives national award for heroism as part of helicopter aquatic rescue team

By Dan Miller

Posted 8/22/19

A Middletown man is among a team of water rescuers from Pennsylvania who received a national award for their life-saving heroism during flooding in summer 2018.

Daryl Tripp, of the 500 block of …

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Middletown man receives national award for heroism as part of helicopter aquatic rescue team


A Middletown man is among a team of water rescuers from Pennsylvania who received a national award for their life-saving heroism during flooding in summer 2018.

Daryl Tripp, of the 500 block of North Spring Street, and 11 other members of the Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (PA-HART) on June 2 were each presented with the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award during a ceremony in South Bend, Indiana.

The Higgins & Langley Memorial awards were established in 1993 by members of the Swiftwater Rescue Committee of the National Association for Search and Rescue, according to the Higgins & Langley website.

The awards honor Earl Higgins, a writer and filmmaker who lost his life in 1980 while rescuing a child who was swept down the flood-swollen Los Angeles River; and Jeffrey Langley, a Los Angeles County Fire Department firefighter-paramedic and swiftwater rescue pioneer, who lost his life in a helicopter incident in 1993.

Tripp, a member of the PA-HART team since 2012, and other team members were called out from Aug. 13-15 because of heavy rains in parts of Pennsylvania.

Hardest hit was Benton borough in Columbia County.

Tripp said in the midst of the rescues over those three days in Benton, he was not thinking of the risk and danger he was putting himself into. He was only concerned with pulling people out, making sure they were OK, and getting them out of the situation they were in.

“Yeah, you’re nervous. You are excited. You’re scared. But at the same time you are the trained professional and that’s how we carry ourselves and that’s how we act on the HART team — the calm, cool, trained professional,” Tripp said. “We never act outside of the professionalism of what we have been taught to be.”

Only after those three days in Benton, when Tripp had a chance to reflect, did he sit back and think to himself, “Wow, that was kind of hairy …that was a little dangerous. But it’s no different than when we are up in Harrisburg pulling people out of the dam.”

Working 12-hour shifts, Tripp and other members of the team rescued a total of 23 people from the floodwaters, including four firefighters who were trapped when a bridge washed out.

The team was pulling people out of houses that were flooded, off roofs and from out of windows. The team also rescued animals from roof tops.

Tripp is a rescue technician with the team. His principal job is to handle any medical emergency that arises during a swift water rescue.

During the rescues, Tripp would go down on a hoist descended from an Army National Guard helicopter and do a quick triage medical assessment of those needing to be rescued.

Tripp would provide any emergency medical treatment that was needed so that the person could be safely rescued.

Tripp, 38, has been involved in emergency services all his life. Growing up in Middletown — he still lives in the same house he grew up in — going out on the river and boating became second nature to Tripp as a young boy, he said.

Tripp’s father was involved in emergency services for 54 years.

“I grew up around the firehouse doing water rescue diving,” he said. “I first dove in a backyard pool when I was 8 years old, became a certified diver at 16 and became a criminal underwater investigating diver at 20,” Tripp said.

Tripp has also been a member of the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department since the early 1990s. He has been teaching water rescue to the department since 1999 — also the year he went out on his first fire with the department, a blaze at the Hardee’s restaurant.

But water rescue has always been “my favorite thing,” said Tripp, who is also a life member of Harrisburg River Rescue.

“You can’t turn water off. Water is unforgiving,” he said. “You get pinned against a bridge, you get pinned underwater, there is no ‘Hang on, time-out, I need to breathe.’ There is no second chance, I guess you could say.”

“When I teach water rescue, I tell the guys you start at Plan A and you plan to Plan S. When you make Plan S you start all over again. Water rescue can change like that,” Tripp said with a snap of his finger. “Storms can blow in, a victim’s condition can change, the rock that they were holding onto or the tree branch they just expended all their strength and got swept off of it … now we’ve got to change from the rescue scenario we were doing to now you’ve got to launch a boat, or we got to go jump in and physically go get them.”

The PA-HART team Tripp is on covers the eastern part of the state. When Tripp gets a call to go out on a mission, the team usually goes to Fort Indiantown Gap, where the team pre-stages and becomes ready to deploy. The team can also deploy on helicopters out of Capital City Airport.

Another PA-HART team covers the western part of Pennsylvania and deploys out of Johnstown.

If things are really bad in the western part of the state, Tripp’s PA-HART team can go out and help the western team and provide relief. The same applies if the eastern part of the state gets hammered — the western team comes in to assist.

The PA-HART teams were created in 2011 and are a joint partnership of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

PA-HART teams utilize aircraft and crew members provided by the Army National Guard, such as Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters.

Last year Tripp’s PA-HART team was called out about 10 times.

The most recent call-up was several weeks ago, when Tripp and other team members were placed on standby at Fort Indiantown Gap for a storm that was supposed to affect eastern Pennsylvania. The storm ended up taking a different route and so the team did not have to deploy.

Tripp said he would not be able to be on the team or to undergo the training that is required without the support of his full-time employer, Feesers, a food distribution company based on Grayson Road.

Tripp is a truck driver/mechanic with Feesers. He also credits the support of his girlfriend, Michelle, herself a member of the Londonderry Township Volunteer Fire Company who understands the demands of a life devoted to saving others.

Tripp and other members of the PA-HART team are also certified to be deployed outside of Pennsylvania to assist other states in disaster relief.

Team members have deployed to Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina. Tripp hasn’t been able to make any missions outside of Pennsylvania yet, but he intends to be available.

Tripp said he is “humbled” to receive the Higgins & Langley Memorial Award, but adds that “it was one of those things where I was just doing my job at that point in time.”

“It was not just me, it was a team effort that did it,” he added. “We all put ourselves in harm’s way to protect the public and to do our jobs as rescue technicians and to assist the public in their hour of need.”