Honoring Hometown Holiday Heroes

Firefighter Keith Paradiso and John Suchorsky


GEICO salutes these—and all—Americans whose acts of bravery and generosity help make the season even more magical.

A Whiteout Christmas

Karen, Isaac and Eric Klein survived a scare at the Grand Canyon, thanks to a brave local rescue team.

During the holiday season, the area near the north rim of the Grand Canyon can look like a rugged winter wonderland, with a dusting of snow like powdered sugar across the buttes. But that pretty scene can turn treacherous in a flash. On December 22, 2016, the Klein family—Eric, Karen and their 10-year-old son Isaac—was on vacation from Pennsylvania, driving through snow-covered parkland to experience the majestic canyon. Before they could reach an overlook point, though, they turned down a road that became increasingly muddy, and their rental car began having a hard time.

Suddenly, their wheels were spinning. Stuck. No other cars around. They checked their phones. No cell service.

Eric was recovering from fractured vertebrae, so Karen, a professor and a triathlete, decided to head out for help. But there was no clear pathway; and without phone service, she became hopelessly lost amid the falling snow and freezing temperatures—for a grueling 40 hours. Finally, she stumbled upon a cabin and broke a window to get inside. She was determined not to die.

Frantic with worry, Eric had to leave Isaac in the car the next morning to brave the elements. After five painful hours and with a fast-draining phone, he miraculously found a pocket of cell service, called for help, and was quickly rescued and reunited with Isaac. But Eric feared the worst for Karen. Sheriffs and rangers sprang into high gear, fanning out across the lonely, wintry landscape. After nine hours of following traces of tracks, rescuers found her in the cabin around 3 a.m., lying huddled on the bed. The snow outside was three feet deep. She was hallucinating and had frostbite on her feet. The sheriff quickly built a fire and called Karen’s family to tell them that she was alive.

The three were reunited on Christmas Eve; Karen expects to be back to running by this coming Christmas. Coconino County sheriff Jim Driscoll and his team of searchers were ecstatic. “It could have gone very bad,” he says. “But we were able to get a family back together for Christmas.”

Fishing for a Miracle

Jay and Meagan Bradford on their wedding day

Jay and Meagan Bradford had been married only about six months when Jay went fishing in late 2015 along the Jersey Shore. In addition to catching blackfish, he caught some heat from his new wife when his wedding ring fell off and sank into the ocean. “I nearly threw up,” Meagan told a local newspaper.

Recovering the ring seemed hopeless. Nevertheless, Jay enlisted New Jersey–based diver Mark Thompson and boat captain Nick Barsa. Waves crashed and winds gusted that day, but the team made it back to the exact location of the mishap.

Thompson put on his scuba gear, dived in and began looking through an expansive bed of mussels. He quickly spotted the ring, sitting on a rock. Thompson attributes his knack for such searches to his dad, who used to toss flat washers into the ocean to help his son practice.

With Christmas just a few weeks away, Meagan dubbed Barsa “Captain St. Nicholas.” Today, she says, “any time we’re facing a tough situation, we say, ‘Hey, we found a ring in the ocean—we can figure this out.’”

Reigniting a Town Tradition

Jeff Hamilton, the American Legion Post 104 Commander

Since 1947, the tiny town of Montoursville, Pa., north of Harrisburg, has maintained a charming annual tradition: adorning a 62-foot tree with holiday lights. Bulbs burned out over the years, but the wiring proved to be as resilient as the town’s tradition.

Until last year. The system finally gave way—and town officials feared they wouldn’t be able to afford a replacement.

Fortunately, the town had its own Santa in the form of local American Legion Post 104, which stepped in and wrote a $6,000 check for new lights—2,500 of them, in fact. The old-fashioned gesture came with some forward-looking smarts: The new lights are LED, so the resulting bill for electricity—traditionally covered by a local realty agency—would drop by at least $500.

It was money well spent, says the Legion’s post commander, Jeff Hamilton, who told reporters that he wants the lights to be a reminder that “we can all pull our resources together and do something like this.”

Three-Alarm New Year’s Eve

Firefighters, from left: Steve Wetter, Keith Paradiso and Jim Kraus

When a fire broke out in John Suchorsky’s home on New Year’s Eve 2016, no humans were present. But three family members were: Romeo, Chloe and Riley—the Suchorskys’ two cats and their dog. The home security company called John, who was in the nearby town of Summit, N.J. He ignored the unfamiliar number, assuming it was a telemarketer.

Luckily, the company also called firefighters, who quickly discovered the three pets in danger. Cat Romeo and dog Riley were together, crouched under the Christmas tree. “It was almost like they were protecting each other,” says Raritan Township Fire Company Deputy Chief Keith Paradiso. “They weren’t going anywhere without each other.”

Romeo was badly burned and suffered smoke inhalation. Riley was unresponsive, so EMTs used a special oxygen mask specifically designed for pets. Chloe was rescued from the basement. All three pets spent several days in the local veterinary hospital.

The Suchorsky family was so grateful for the firefighters’ good work that they donated $3,000 to the firehouse and the EMS unit. And while their house needed repairs, the family is happily intact. Riley, in fact, is thriving, having just started a new gig as a therapy dog for children. “He’s helping students who need emotional support; sometimes he just listens while students read to him,” says John. “He’s a lovable miracle.”

By Katrina Brown Hunt

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