Firefighter Joseph Rippert was off duty and asleep at his home in Roxborough last spring when he was awakened by screams. Rippert went outside, saw his neighbor’s house ablaze and was told that someone was trapped inside.
Without hesitation, Rippert bravely ran into the burning building, found an unconscious man on the second floor and began to pull him toward the stairs. But soon the smoke became unbearable, and Rippert — wearing no protective gear — ran down the stairs to get a breath of fresh air. He then went back into the house to grab the man for a second time.
After transferring care of the man to responding firefighters and paramedics, Rippert continued to help at the scene by carrying fire hose through the front door and advancing into the home to help fight the fire.
For all of his courageous actions that night, Rippert was honored as Firefighter of the Year at a ceremony on Oct. 23 at Fireman’s Hall Museum. And the man he saved, Paolo Gambaro, was there to thank him.
“He doesn’t realize what he did for me,” said Gambaro, who spent days recovering in a hospital. “He was just doing his duty, in his eyes. But for me, he gave me a second chance at life.”
Rippert, who joined the Philadelphia Fire Department less than two years ago, deflected talk of heroism. He said that any gratitude should be directed toward his instructors at the Fire Academy.
“I wouldn’t be here or have known what to do if it wasn’t for them,” said Rippert. “I still have a lot to learn.”
Rippert, a married father of two young children, previously served in the U.S. Army. A carpenter by trade, he donates his skills to disabled veterans in the community. Rippert is assigned to Engine 35 in East Falls.