By Marine Corps Sgt. Bryan Nygaard
4th Marine Corps District
DUNKIRK, Md., May 15, 2015 – Matthew Shrawder and four other firefighters with the Dunkirk Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene of a raging house fire in Owings, Maryland, at 10:30 a.m. March 9.
“When we got there I was playing through my head which line I was going to pull, where I was going to go and just keeping all the training I’ve had in the back of my head,” Shrawder said. “Just try to stay safe.”
Shrawder jumped off the fire truck and ran to the front porch of the burning house where he met Tommy Breen, a retired Prince George’s County fire chief and the first person to arrive on scene.
Into the Inferno
Shrawder started to put his oxygen mask on and go in the front doorway when he saw, amid the billowing smoke and fire, an elderly woman lying in the hallway.
He and Breen went into the inferno and dragged the woman to the front porch where another firefighter carried her to the front yard and an EMT began performing CPR on her.
“When we pulled her out, I didn’t notice until we got her on the front lawn how badly burned she was and that she was in cardiac arrest,” Shrawder said.
Once Shrawder saw that the woman was being cared for, he grabbed the main hose line and went back to work.
“I went in and started making a knock on the fire,” Shrawder said.
Back Into the Fire
He and his fellow firefighters pushed through the first floor, hosing down the flames while enduring extreme heat and blinding smoke.
Shrawder said the roar of the fire was so deafening that none of the firefighters inside the house were able to hear the fire truck alarm meant to signal their evacuation. The intense fire had been rapidly tearing away at the structure and trapped Shrawder in the hallway. A fellow firefighter grabbed him by the collar and pulled him out. During this time, other fire engines arrived on the scene and began working to put out the fire.
Only an hour earlier Shrawder was sitting in class at Northern High School.
Fire, Rescue and EMS Cadet Program
The 18 year old is part of the Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services Cadets, a special vocational technical program funded by the Calvert County Board of Education that qualifies teenagers to respond to fires and other emergencies.
Students such as Shrawder participate in this year-long program where they join a volunteer fire department and attend training sessions in lieu of free periods during school hours.
Shrawder enrolled in the cadet program when he was 15 years old. However, he was not able to go out on calls until he turned 16. In that year, he spent most of his time cleaning gear and equipment.
“You can ask any guy at the firehouse. I cleaned 24/7,” he said.
Shrawder said he has basically lived out of the firehouse ever since he joined the program three years ago. He’s responded to several hundred calls, ranging from house fires to car accidents, and injuries. He was recognized by the fire station for making more than 500 runs in 2014.
William Rector, the fire chief for the Dunkirk Volunteer Fire Department, says that Shrawder is more experienced than many of the firefighters he has worked with in the last 14 years.
“His actions in the fire department are pretty impressive for someone his age,” Rector said of Shrawder. “If we had more young men like him, the fire department and the military would be a much better place than what it is now. Every place has its challenges, but very seldom do we find someone who exceeds our standards.”
‘It’s Our Job’
The Calvert County Board of Commissioners recently recognized Shrawder with a proclamation for his acts of heroism on that fateful day in March. He is very quick to downplay any praise he has received from friends, family, and coworkers.
“I don’t really think I deserve it because it’s what we’re supposed to do -- it’s our job,” Shrawder said. “We don’t need a pat on the back for doing our job.”
Shrawder is scheduled to attend Marine Corps recruit training this summer after he graduates high school. He says he always wanted to enlist in the military and made the decision to join the Marine Corps sometime when he was in middle school.
Shrawder believes the stress of being a firefighter will prepare him for the stresses of recruit training and for life as a Marine.
“I’m handed multiple tasks at one time,” he said, “and I have to deal with it … I think it will help me a lot.”