Hundreds of people in Berks County began their day inspired by others who made quite a difference in the community over the last year.
Some saved lives; others made lives better. All were honored Thursday morning as heroes by the Berks County chapter of the American Red Cross during its ninth annual Heroes Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing.
The event aims to celebrate heroes who "lived and embodied the values of humanity, voluntary service and unity, which constitute the core of the mission of the American Red Cross."
Alicia Elwell, Dylan Heckart, Katie Heffner, Damon March and Lorraine Storms, members of the Humane Society's Pet Retention Response Team, were honored as animal rescue heroes. The team traveled to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to help pet owners shelter in place or keep their animals with them during evacuation.
"A lot of times these animals will end up sort of lost in the system," said Heckart.
The team members visited neighborhoods ravaged by the storm to provide food and supplies to pet owners who did not evacuate. They also provided supplies to emergency shelters. The effort prevented pets and their owners from becoming separated and helped to reduce the burden on local animal shelters.
Reading Fire Department Deputy Chief Nicholas Amicone was honored as fire safety hero. The retiring Amicone began his career with the department in 1973 and became a full-time, career firefighter in 1977.
"The excitement of it," Amicone said. "I always wanted to be a firefighter ever since I was a little boy."
In his 40 years of service to the city, Amicone was instrumental in assisting with writing the specifications for all of Reading's current front-line apparatus. He has also taught fire training at the volunteer level.
"I think firefighting is always in your blood, so I may not be running calls anymore, but I'll still be listening," Amicone said.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Anthony Garipoli and Trooper Kevin Masinick were honored as law enforcement heroes. Through rapid assessment, prompt action and effective communication, both troopers were able to save the life of an elderly man suffering from dementia.
"Asked which roads he normally takes so we could follow him and look for him along the way," said Garipoli.
The troopers eventually found the man and his minivan in a church parking lot.
"It wasn't until we got closer up behind him that we realized the front wheels were actually on top of his right arm," said Masinick.
The man had gotten out of the van and tripped. The van was not in park, and the wheels started rolling backward, pinning him underneath for five hours before the troopers found him and summoned medical help.
Rodger Gehring and Erik Cleveland were honored as medical heroes for saving the life of an 88-year-old woman whose heart stopped while shopping at the Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing two days before Christmas.
"She was very pale," said Cleveland. "I didn't see any breathing. We were checking pulse. Nothing was there."
"I remember praying, 'Please, Lord, don't let this happen to this woman, not before the holidays. Please don't do this to her family."
Through their training, composure and skill, both men were able to revive the woman for transport to the hospital.
Jaime Hodgson was honored as the 911 dispatch hero for maintaining communication with a suicidal subject for 20 minutes as he wandered around downtown Reading.
"I knew I needed to find out where he was to get him the help he needed," Hodgson said. "I remember him describing parking lots, buildings. I was trying to get anything out of him."
As the man continued to take medication, Hodgson managed to get him to stay in one place so that Reading police officers could locate him and get him the help he needed.
Barry Rohrbach, founder and president of Crime Alert Berks County, was honored as community impact hero. When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, Rohrbach felt compelled to do something. He and his wife rallied both his personal contacts and strangers alike to support the work of those providing aid and comfort to storm victims through the American Red Cross.
"It was a spur of the moment thing, but it was just something that we thought maybe that's what we should do," said Rohrbach.
"We need more Barry Rohrbachs in this world," said Mike Faust, host of WEEU's "Feedback" program.
Kimberly Houck was honored as military hero. Houck, a former MP who served in the Persian Gulf, takes care of military families in crisis. Some are deployed and need assistance with emergencies or issues at home. Houck finds them food and housing, navigates them through endless paperwork and helps them with their benefits.
Rich Evans, Peter Hart, Trell Davis, Ben Lutz and Curt Wallace, employees of Kohl Building Products in Bern Township, were honored as adult good Samaritan heroes. The men saved the life of a co-worker, Jim Coxey, who was suffering from cardiac arrest.
"The first thing I noticed was Jim wasn't Jim," said Davis. "It looked like he was gone."
"His face was purple," said Wallace. "He wasn't breathing at all. He wasn't moving."
"I went for his pulse at his neck and I didn't feel anything," said Hart.
"I ripped open his shirt and started doing CPR," said Davis.
The men were able to revive Coxey twice until help arrived.
"They're my heroes," said Coxey. "hey are great guys, and they have skills that I did not know they possessed."
Tyler Byrnes and Danny Reightneour were honored as youth good Samaritan heroes. The teens, students at Daniel Boone High School, were on their way home one day in January 2012 when they noticed smoke coming from a home. The boys saved the lives of the two men still inside.
"When we got them to open the door and their attention, the smoke was from our eyes all the way up," said Byrnes.
69 News anchor Karin Mallett served as emcee of the event.
Local entrepreneur Severin Fayerman delivered the keynote speech, sharing his dramatic story of surviving the holocaust as a prisoner in German concentration camps. His family later emigrated to the United States in 1946.
Fayerman later sold and signed copies of his book, "A Survivor's Story," donating all the proceeds to the American Red Cross.
The American Red Cross is already accepting nominations for its 2014 hero awards. You can go to the Red Cross's website to nominate someone you feel is deserving of the honor.