Loudoun's lights in the storm

By Beth Welsh
Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sometimes you need only look out your window to see ordinary people become extraordinary heroes.

On the night of Feb. 10, four generations of my family were snowed in at my home about three miles south of Purcellville. I live on a narrow, one-way dirt road that meanders along one of the windiest hills in western Loudoun County. Four days into "snowmageddon," our road was, once again, drifted shut. My mother, Sara Welsh (were I to write her age I'd be disowned -- let's just say it begins with a "9"), lost consciousness and fell. My daughter, son-in-law and I carried her to the couch and called 911. Given the extreme weather and the location of my home, we were praying to be put on a priority list for rescue the next morning.

Our heroes didn't see it that way. Within 15 minutes, a group of emergency vehicles -- including a fire engine, a tractor and an ambulance -- appeared at the base of the hill. The drifts in the road were more than five feet deep, the temperature was 15 degrees and the wind was gusting up to 40 mph. We all waited anxiously, faces pressed to windows, to see what their next critical move would be. Thirty minutes later we noticed small flashes of bright light bobbing in the fields. We realized that these men, unable to drive the last mile to my home, were walking in these conditions. They soon arrived, red-faced and ice-covered, at my back-porch door.

The first to reach us, heavy emergency medical equipment strapped to their backs and flashlights on their chests, were members of the Purcellville Volunteer Fire Company -- Chief Jimmy Counselman and volunteers Chris Kermode and Andy Smith. They immediately began administering first aid to my mother. Half an hour later, two more rescuers, Emmitt Carolen and Nathan Herlocker of the Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Department, also miraculously arrived through the field. We then learned that emergency snow removal equipment had been called to dig a passable lane for an ambulance. When the plow, a massive Caterpillar tractor, arrived, driver Larry Huff, with McKim Construction of Purcellville, stepped out and surveyed what more needed to be accomplished. At this point in the storm, you could not see the entrance to my driveway.

But two hours later, at 11:30 p.m., a route had been cleared to my home, making it possible for Purcellville emergency medical technicians Michael O'Brien and Earl Hall to drive up. At 12:15 a.m. we pulled out of the driveway, my mother and I as passengers. We were transported to an ambulance waiting about a half mile from my home, where we met more rescuers: Purcellville's Ed Hill, Pete Dowdy, Stephanie Soloman, Jennifer Purdy and Dave Schwarz.

We safely arrived at the Cornwall Emergency Center around 1:30 a.m., where we learned that my mother had broken her hip. We were then transported to Lansdowne Hospital at 5 a.m. Finally, on Feb. 11, at 8:30 p.m., my mother had a successful hip surgery. She is currently at a rehab center in Leesburg, learning to maneuver on her own again.

It is hard to find the words to express how thankful and fortunate we, and all Loudoun County residents, are to have such courageous volunteers in our community. Their unselfish efforts that night demonstrated the kind of daring called for when a life may hang in the balance. This very special group of men and women, all of them heroes, will be forever in my heart.

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