By Tony DeGol
The Catholic Register
Emergency responders do not perform their heroic actions for recognition.
A priest of this diocese found that out the hard way earlier this year.
This past spring, Father Dennis Kurdziel, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona, was involved in a very serious car crash.
First responders from AMED rushed to the scene to rescue the badly injured priest. Two of them happen to be members of Cathedral parish.
When Bishop Mark L. Bartchak had the opportunity thank the men for their remarkable work that awful night, he learned a lot more about what those emergency workers encountered at the scene of Father Kurdziel’s crash and how they approach their duties each day.
At first, Father Kurdziel was unrecognizable, one of the responders told the Bishop. When the men finally realized the victim was Father Kurdziel, they explained that they treated him with the same care that they would provide for anyone.
Beyond those AMED workers, Altoona police officers and firefighters also responded, and medical personnel from UPMC Altoona jumped into action as well.
On Saturday, September 8, Bishop Mark celebrated the Blue and White Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament to salute all of the brave and selfless individuals who not only performed so admirably the night of Father Kurdziel’s accident, but who serve our community so honorably every day of the year.
“It’s a special moment to recognize those who serve as first responders, for those who – day in and day out – work to keep us safe and to provide for our care when we are in danger,” stated the Bishop in his homily. “This evening, we recognize all of you who do that work without recognition, who do that important, life-saving work for the good of people you sometimes recognize and often for those who are unrecognized and unrecognizable.”
There are challenges, sacrifices, and dangers to all who serve as an emergency worker, the Bishop continued, and we are fortunate and grateful as they carry out their mission.
“Today we give thanks to God for you in this Blue and White Mass,” he added. “It is an opportunity for us to ask God’s continued blessing upon you.”
During his homily, Bishop Mark invited the many emergency workers present to stand and be acknowledged by applause.
The Bishop celebrates the Blue and White Mass biennially at the Altoona Cathedral around the time the nation observes the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown is the site of an annual Blue Mass, which also salutes emergency responders. This year’s Blue Mass was on Sunday, September 9. It was broadcast live on WATM ABC 23.
Those who put their lives on the line for our safety appreciate the prayers and support from the community.
“It is good to stop and think about how those individuals who are risking their lives help out with the community and to share that there are losses in our ranks also, so we think about that also,” noted Altoona Fire Department Assistant Chief Mathew Detrich. “This is a good time to be thankful that people are out there working and doing these jobs and remember those who have lost their lives.”
Jason Burkle, a paramedic with AMED, appreciated the outpouring of support at the Blue and White Mass and said his Catholic faith sustains him through the challenges of his career.
“I rely on my faith quite a bit,” he admitted. “It gives me the opportunity to get through some of the very hard things that we have to deal with. To be able to know that God is on our side, even at the worst times, helps me through a lot of it.”
Ken Doyle, Jr., a volunteer firefighter with the Geeseytown Fire Department, believes that God is looking down on him and protecting him from harm.
“Every time the alarm goes off, the first thing I do is make the sign of the cross, and I pray for the folks involved that they are not seriously injured,” Doyle said. “I pray for every one of my brothers and sisters in the fire department that we can all come home safe from the call.”
Doyle does not consider himself a hero. Rather, he does what he does out of love and service to the community.
“The biggest thing the community can do to help first responders is to pray for us,” he added.