FRANKLIN TWP. — Mount Zion volunteer Fire Chief Robert Kile called him “one of the best.”
Kile, speaking at a fundraiser Saturday, was referring to Harry Sweppenheiser III, the Franklin Township volunteer fire chief who was critically injured in a July 22 vehicle accident.
“Even in most moments of weakness, he was always the strongest,” Kile said.
The two departments often collaborate during emergenciesd. Franklin Township has set up a recovery fund to help Sweppenheiser pay impending medical bills.
It was raining hard on July 22. There were warnings of flash flooding as the chief and his son, Kyle, 11, traveled on 8th Street. State police who reconstructed the scene said Sweppenheiser was not speeding, but pooling water on the windy road was enough to hydroplane the SUV into a tree. Kyle, who was uninjured, helped to staff tables at the fundraiser.
Sweppenheiser is at a Philadelphia hospital undergoing therapy to regain use of his legs. He is expected to be there for several weeks, said Assistant Chief Mo Oremus.
At the fundraiser, where spaghetti was on the menu and guests could try their luck at basket raffles and buy baked goods, Sharyn Davis, Sweppenheiser’s sister, said her brother is in high spirits. The chief and her husband poke fun at each other, like always, Davis said.
“He really appreciates all the love and support (from his crew and family),” said Davis. “He feels everybody pulling for him.”
A leader from the start
Oremus remembered a Christmas Eve fire at the Emanuel Bus Lines depot years ago. Sweppenheiser was assistant chief then. The blaze was igniting buses and flames lapped 40 feet in the air. With deliberate confidence, Sweppenheiser commanded 11 departments that night to extinguish the fire, Oremus said.
“He has an uncanny ability to handle more than one thing at the same time,” Oremus said.
Franklin Company President Ron Witkowski was chief when Sweppenheiser joined the company more than 20 years ago. The rookie took every chance he could to better himself at the public-service position, Witkowski said.
Oremus said the firefighters carry on in their chief’s absence, but it’s hard, especially for junior members who look up to him. Most of all, they will miss his sharp perspective, she said.
“He’s more proactive than he is reactive. He’s an amazing incident command and that’s where we’re going to hurt.” Oremus said. “He will be back and he told me that.”