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Shohola Fire Chief Don Wall

A chief’s toughest choice

By SARAH KOENIG

SHOHOLA — As a firefighter, Don Wall is used to taking risks, and as a fire chief, he’s used to making tough decisions.

But on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, he was faced with one of the most difficult choices of his personal and professional life.

“We got the call from the Communications ‘Comm’ Center asking if we could spare a truck and men to come down to the city and help at the World Trade Center, and to have it ready if we were called.” Wall said. “We knew that whatever we would be doing there, it wouldn’t be pretty. But doing nothing is much, much worse. Watching TV and not being able to help them is awful.”

Equally awful, according to Wall, was deciding who should go to the city if the call came, particularly since on Tuesday morning, no one knew how far the terrorist attacks would go.

“I had to make sure that the men who went were capable,” he says, “and that the men who stayed back would be able to take care of the township in case there was an emergency at home.”

After considering everything, he chose Captains Fred Reader and Michael Donavon, Lieutenants Scott Rando and Eric Hartmann and himself.

Although he knew that the scene would be devastating, Wall wasn’t worried about his own safety, saying, “I felt for the families of the victims, but I would risk my life to help other people, and I would hope my family would accept that. My family didn’t like the fact that we were on standby, but they knew they couldn’t talk me out of it.”

The thought of what might happen to his men, however, was enough to break his calm exterior.

“I personally broke down crying, because I knew there were going to be firefighters killed. Everyone else is running away from things and we’re running to it. I knew right away that there were going to be enormous fatalities.”

Bringing his firefighters into a situation like that, not knowing if all of them will survive, was Wall’s biggest concern.

“Being a fire chief, they’re my responsibility,” he said. “I was very scared for them. I want to do the right thing, but I wanted everyone to be safe. Luckily, though, all my men are very knowledgeable and very level headed.”

Wall had good reason to trust the skills of his men.

On the previous Sunday, over 100 men and women from Shohola’s emergency services gathered for a mass casualty drill which, according to Wall, “couldn’t have gone better.”

And while, thankfully, the crisis passed and no one had to risk serious injury, Wall is confident that whatever other crisis comes, Shohola’s firefighters will be up to the challenge.

Put simply, “They make me proud.”


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