Parade theme comes to life Firefighters save fallen veteran in front of Lititz El

By on July 11, 2012

By: STEPHEN SEEBER Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

Photo by Dennis Bicksler
Dave Wagner (marching on the right) approaches Lititz Elementary School, where moments later he collapsed from a heart attack during the Fourth of July parade. The Lititz Fire Company volunteers who helped save his life are just a few steps behind him.

A Fourth of July parade dedicated to heroes saw its theme in action last week when a veteran suffered a heart attack on South Cedar Street. Fast action from volunteer firefighters marching just a few steps behind saved the day.

"If they weren’t there, I’d be gone," said Dave Wagner, an 82nd Airborne veteran from Lock Haven.

Wagner, 74, spent several days at Lancaster General Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery. Doctors said he had 99 percent blockage in one of his major arteries, and every second at the parade scene was the difference between life or death.

"Everything just went blank," Wagner recalled. "I don’t remember anything else until I woke up here in the hospital."

"Had the firefighters not been right behind us, I’m not sure the outcome would have been the same," said Lititz resident Russel Dicks, who marches with Wagner in a dozen parades each year.

The Lititz Lions Club Independence Day parade on July 3 started like all the others, with the Airborne color guard in formation amid a sea of flag-waving families.

"Everything seemed just fine," Dicks recalled. "We got to Lititz El … and he just dropped."

Dicks stopped the vintage Army jeep he was driving and ran to his colleague’s aid. Several others from the crowd, some with medical backgrounds, rushed to help. The first thought was that he fainted due to the heat, and then it appeared he was having a seizure. The only thing anyone knew for sure at that moment was that Wagner, who was walking along normally just a few steps earlier, was now flat on his back and unresponsive. Within seconds, members of the Lititz Fire Company, marching as a formal unit right behind them, were putting countless hours of training into motion.

"Our guys are very humble folk," said Fire Chief (and Lititz mayor) Ron Oettel. "They’re not comfortable with the hometown heroes designation. It’s for the bigger, greater cause. We’re no better than the ambulance crew. We’re no better than the citizens who stepped in. It was just good fortune that we were that close and we had the skills and equipment to help."

Volunteer firefighters dedicate about 95 percent of their time to preparation, Oettel pointed out. Last week, all the prep work paid off, as they used an on-scene AED, CPR and a breathing tube to sustain Wagner until a Warwick Ambulance arrived.

Meanwhile, Dicks, knowing Wagner’s wife Kay was camped out near the beginning of the parade route, hopped into his jeep and snaked his way through the downtown alleys, trying to avoid thousands of parade-watchers, to find her.

"It was frightening," he said.

As the ambulance left the scene, the firefighters rejoined the parade to the cheers of an appreciative crowd.

"It was a pretty emotional moment," Oettel said. "The positive outcome was just timing, and by the grace of God that it happened literally feet in front of us."

Wagner was discharged from LGH over the weekend, and while his visit to Lancaster County lasted four days longer than expected, he knows he wouldn’t be heading home at all had it not been for the Lititz Fire Company.

"I’d like to thank every one of them," he said. More HEROES, page A14

About Lititz Record