Man In 'Right Spot' At The 'Right Time' To Save Leechburg Fire Chief's Life

Jul 3, 2017

John Fiorina wasn't going to stay for the fireworks show at the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Company's annual carnival. In fact, he was getting ready to go home.

His back was hurting, a culmination of working nonstop at the carnival's Chuck-a-luck wheel, standing on concrete all week and being on his feet at work earlier in the day.

"I said to the guys and the girl with me, 'You know, when these fireworks start, I'm going home,'" the 50-year-old Leechburg resident said.

Then Fiorina's younger brother and his family showed up. He didn't want to be rude, so he decided to stay and watch the show with them. They stood outside the firehouse garage; Fiorina leaning against the building.

About 20 minutes went by. A nice white firework went off. Then a blue one. But the blue one didn't go very high. In fact, it went sideways. And it sounded funny.

Fiorina, a volunteer firefighter and transitional care nurse at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Aspinwall, looked at his family. He looked at another firefighter who was with his grandchildren nearby.

"I said, 'Man, that didn't sound good,'" he said.

About two minutes went by. There were no fireworks, but there were screams. "Call 911! Get an ambulance! Call 911!"

Fiorina and another firefighter rushed inside the station. They called 911. An ambulance already was on the way.

They dashed outside and toward the spot where Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold, 39, had been lighting fireworks mortars. It was half a block away, in a parking lot behind Stan's Auto Services.

Karen Diebold, Mike's mom, saw the entire scene unfold. She had been standing about 50 to 75 yards away from him with a few of her cousins.

Karen Diebold said she heard a boom and knew that a firework had misfired. Her son, a licensed pyrotechnic with his own fireworks company, has had that happen before, but this one was different, she said.

"It went dead quiet, then all of a sudden I hear, 'Help. Help. Help, Mom,' because he knew I was there," she said. "I ran over and started talking to him, and then I glanced down and saw his arm was gone — and about fainted."

She said she saw a firefighter with a walkie-talkie and yelled, "Get an ambulance right now!"

People rushed to the scene. Mike Diebold was yelling for a tourniquet. One man took off his shirt and tied it around Diebold's arm. It helped, but it wasn't enough, his mom said.

When Fiorina arrived, he said, Diebold was lying on his right side between mortar shells. The shells were still smoking, and he could tell the chief was missing part of his arm.

Fiorina got down to see just how bad the wound was. He said there was already something wrapped around the chief's arm and there was also a brown, fuzzy blanket.

"I need gloves. I need gloves," Fiorina remembers saying.

Someone arrived with a first aid kit. Fiorina said he needed a tourniquet. Did anyone have a shirt, a belt, a rope, anything?

A tall man wearing an orange shirt had a belt, Fiorina said. The man handed it to Fiorina, who wrapped it around Diebold's arm and elevated it.

Fiorina stressed the need for a medical helicopter and was told one was about eight minutes away. He said Diebold was in and out of consciousness but talking.

"Tell my son I love him," the chief was saying. "I was telling him, 'You'll be fine, you'll be fine,'" Fiorina said.

Diebold was taken by an ambulance to the helicopter, which flew him to UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh. Fiorina went back inside the station and cleaned himself up.

He went back to the scene. He saw the man who gave him the belt — holding up his shorts.

"I said, 'Your belt's gone, man,'" Fiorina said. "He said, 'That's OK. It's a belt.'"

He went back to the station, sat down, cracked open a beer, and counted the Chuck-a-luck money.

"They didn't count the money," he said. "I still got stuck counting the money.

"That's the end of the night."

Karen Diebold said her son was out of the intensive care unit on Wednesday. She credits Fiorina with saving her son's life.

Fiorina said what he did was just "instinct."

"I guess I did save his life," he said. "It's hard to spit those words out.

"My plans were just to go home. I guess the man upstairs put me in the right spot at the right time."

Karen Diebold said it will take about four to six weeks for her son to heal, then he will undergo therapy and be fit with a prosthetic arm.

She said he will be able to do everything he could before but she was unsure about police work.

"The district attorney was down to visit him and he said we need to get him back in the law enforcement family," she said. "What that means, I don't know."

"I hope they let him be chief, but it's going to depend on what the rules and regulations are."

Photo: Jon Dawson | Flickr