FORT WAYNE – Firefighter Eric Zeiger became the fourth emergency worker to be recognized for his part in a crisis a year ago in which an ambulance was sprayed with bullets.
The Indiana Emergency Responders Conference recently gave Three Rivers Ambulance Authority Paramedic Diana Lantz and Advanced EMT Jeromy Yadon the groups Heroic Rescue of the Year award for their actions in the attack. The ambulance authoritys Rita Hughes was named Dispatcher of the Year for her handling of the crisis.
But Zeiger didnt even know he had been nominated for the Heroic Rescue award, so he hadnt received his. Fire Chief Amy Biggs gave him the award Thursday.
She said it was quick thinking and critical decision-making that allowed the episode to turn out as well as possible: the passengers in the ambulance were transported to the hospital and Zeigers description of the assailants vehicle and its direction of travel helped police locate it and arrest the occupants.
Zeiger brushed aside talk of heroics. I think any one of us would have done the same thing, he said.
The episode began at Pieres, 5629 St. Joe Road, the early morning of Sept. 9, 2012. When paramedics and firefighters responded to a report of a stabbing, they found Jermaine Loyall in serious condition. Yadon and Lantz put him in an ambulance and headed to the hospital, with firefighter Zeiger at the wheel.
Fort Wayne firefighters routinely respond to medical calls because they have faster response times. They can then drive the ambulance, allowing both ambulance crew members to attend to the victim. Biggs said the award was as much a sign of the great working relationship between the ambulance authority and the fire department as anything.
As the ambulance left, it was followed by a Chevrolet Impala containing two of Loyalls sisters and a friend. A Crown Victoria came up on the Impala and the ambulance from behind, and two men inside began shooting at the ambulance and the Impala.
Nineteen bullets penetrated the walls and glass of the ambulance; 18 more tore through the doors of the Impala following behind. Yadon was the only person in the ambulance who was wounded; he was struck by bullet fragments, glass and shrapnel, suffering injuries to his left arm and side. All three passengers in the trailing car suffered gunshot wounds, including one woman who was hit at least six times.
Dontay Martin was sentenced to a total of 170 years on nine charges, including four charges of attempted murder. Traneilous L. Jackson was sentenced to a total of 60 years in prison. Zeiger said he didnt even realize what was happening at first.
I saw Jeromy (Yadon) diving toward the ground. He said, Theyre shooting at us. Zeiger said. I ducked and tried to keep the vehicle on the road.
The shots blew out both back windows in the ambulance and filled the trucks body with holes, including one near where Zeiger was driving. It all happened so fast, he said, there was no time to be afraid.
I really didnt have time to make decisions, really. It was just reacting to what happened, Zeiger said.
But others say the actions of the third-generation firefighter went beyond that.
Yadon said that despite a large center console in the ambulance, Zeiger moved to protect the passenger in the front seat. He then had the presence of mind to get a description of the car shooting at them and what direction it left in. That allowed dispatcher Hughes to relay the information to police while Lantz and Yadon continued caring for the patient in the back.
Yadon said he has no problem letting Zeiger behind the wheel again.
Hes my good-luck charm now, Yadon said. He can drive for me anytime.