Harper Woods hands out Medals of Valor

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published March 6, 2015

 Fire Lt. Kevan Kochan and Public Safety Sgt. Thomas Lada receive the Medal of Valor during a recent City Council meeting for their work in getting an elderly disabled woman out of her apartment during a fire last December.

Fire Lt. Kevan Kochan and Public Safety Sgt. Thomas Lada receive the Medal of Valor during a recent City Council meeting for their work in getting an elderly disabled woman out of her apartment during a fire last December.

Photo provided by the Harper Woods Department of Public Safety

HARPER WOODS — While many children dream about their favorite superheroes, four young children who attended the March 2 City Council meeting have real-life heroes in their midst — their dads.

Fire Lt. Kevan Kochan and public safety department Sgt. Thomas Lada were presented with the Medal of Valor for battling smoke and flames that engulfed an apartment in the city last December with the goal of pulling an elderly disabled woman from the building.

“It was outstanding work between the police and fire department,” Public Safety Department Lt. John Vorgitch said. “They went above and beyond.”

The city has referred to their actions as an “exemplary display of bravery and courage.”

The fire erupted in an apartment complex on Littestone in the early morning hours of Dec. 23.

Lada was the first to arrive at the blaze. He saw smoke from a second-story window and immediately launched a building evacuation.

A resident told him that an elderly woman who was disabled was in one of the apartments. Lada heard calls for help from that apartment and notified dispatch that a woman was trapped in the apartment.

“Without hesitation or regard for his own safety, Sgt. Lada forced entry in an attempt to rescue her,” the award presented to Lada reads. “Once the door opened, heavy black smoke immediately began to fill the hallway and he observed flames inside the apartment.

“He could still hear the female yelling for help and made an attempt to rescue her, but was overtaken by the heavy smoke.”

Lada never gave up, continuing to work to get to her. He continued talking to the woman, working to move debris from the doorway to her apartment to make it easier to reach her.

The fire truck arrived, and Kochan entered the apartment in his firefighter gear.

“Lt. Kochan was able to locate the female and pulled her out of the apartment, down the stairs and to safety, where an awaiting ambulance was standing by,” his award reads.

Family surrounded both Kochan and Lada when they received their awards at the meeting.

Kochan said that on a typical fire scene with a vacant building, everyone has a designated task for fire suppression, but when someone is trapped in a building, priorities shift. The primary goal becomes rescuing that person.

Kochan said that in a rescue situation, firefighters focus on one thing — the rescue. He said that “you say your prayers when you’re getting out” on the scene and “you’re beelining for one thing.”

Among Kochan’s biggest fans were his two young children, his 6-year-old daughter, Nylah, and 4-year-old son, Vance.

“It was honestly one of the most beautiful moments of my life, really,” Kochan said of getting the award among his family.

Kochan remembered that the day before the fire, he had a conversation with a close friend who is a paramedic and told her how, sometimes, he wonders what his purpose is, because they see so many bad things happen in public safety work, and some of those things can haunt their thoughts.

“Sometimes it only takes one call to figure out why God put you in that position,” he said. “There’s that one call that makes everything worth it.”

Kochan’s children were proud of their dad. When Kochan picked up Nylah on the day of the award ceremony, her friends and teachers were all yelling congratulations to him because she had been talking about her dad’s award. Vance, also proud of his dad, came to the awards ceremony prepared.

“He actually came to the ceremony dressed in his firefighter gear,” Kochan said. “It was more exciting watching how excited they were. It matched the moment.

“They made the day such a blessing,” he said.

He said firefighters and public safety officers in the city attended, as well.

Family present with Lada included his two young boys, 5-year-old Tommy and 2-year-old Alex, who like to play police officer and firefighter.

“It always feels good to be acknowledged,” Lada said. “I was just very, very humbled by it.

“I was thankful for our command staff for recognizing it and for City Council for recognizing it,” he said.

Lada remembered the events surrounding the fire, and his frustration at not being able to immediately reach the trapped woman.

When told someone was in the apartment, he heard her cries for help.

“She was screaming that she couldn’t breathe and the apartment was on fire,” Lada said.

He said the smoke was intense — very thick.

“I couldn’t see 2 inches in front of my face,” he said.

He engaged a light feature in his gear to help him see.

He said he “could see the flames lapping up toward (him).”

Knowing someone was in there was nerve-wracking and frustrating because he wanted to reach her.

He didn’t stop, not even when Kochan arrived in full firefighting gear to be able to enter farther into the apartment. Lada was coughing from the thick smoke and required oxygen in the ambulance after the rescue.