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June graduate honored for heroism in saving fire chief

June 25, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Volunteer firefighter and Western Michigan University ROTC Cadet Jacob Della Pia was just doing his job when he was called to a house fire more than a year ago. Yet going twice into a burning home to rescue occupants and ultimately saving his fire chief has earned him a medal for heroism.

Della Pia, a management major from Manistee, Mich., will graduate from WMU Saturday, June 28, and receive the ROTC Cadet Medal for Heroism. The same day he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers serving in the Michigan Army National Guard.

Della Pia was called to a house fire on Feb. 19, 2007, as a volunteer firefighter with the Oshtemo Township Fire Department. Despite zero visibility, the cadet entered the building to search for occupants. Following the sound of a cough he heard, he and another firefighter found an unconscious man on the floor, later identified as former Fire Chief Ken Howe. Della Pia pulled Howe to safety and returned to the house a second time to look for other family members, but they had already reached safety. Once out of the house, he continued to fight the fire for three more hours until other fire units arrived to relieve him.

The award citation notes "ºconspicuous gallantry, selfless service and personal courage displayed without regard to his own life and supreme devotion to his fellow man were well above and beyond the call of duty, following the finest traditions of military service and reflect the utmost credit upon himself and the United States Army."

Presenting the award to Della Pia is Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Thomas Edmonds, former Kalamazoo County sheriff and now a member of the faculty in the WMU Haworth College of Business.

Media contact: Deanne Molinari, (269) 387-8400, deanne.molinari@wmich.edu

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