Despite own issues, Burchill gives time to others|
Saturday, August 11, 2012
By Terry Whetstone Staff Writer
IRVONA - Volunteering is something everyone should try, and perhaps you do volunteer or have tried it. For most, it gives a great feeling and a sense of pride, and perhaps it's something they'll continue to do for many years, kind of like Paul Burchill of Irvona.
When Burchill was a teenager, he said Pastor Richard Jenkins of the church he attended was a volunteer firefighter with the Glendale Fire Department in Coalport. He said Jenkins talked to them about volunteering and joining the fire company.
Today, more then 30 years later, Burchill is still volunteering.
While he began as a member of the Glendale Fire Dept., he is now a member of Irvona Volunteer Fire Co., but it does not stop there. He is the safety officer and chaplain for the fire company and the president of Irvona Volunteer Ambulance, a position he has held for the past three years.
He also volunteered as a member of the Glendale Area Medical Center board, where he was a member for nine years, three of those as president; he has been a board member of his church, a trustee of the church, a Sunday school teacher and a Sunday school superintendent.
And while doing all of this, he learned a lot, mostly from Pastor Jenkins.
"He taught me two lessons," Burchill said. "You need to care for your body and soul, and the other lesson is you're only an instrument to be used by God."
He said it took a long time for that to sink in.
He has been the fire department chaplain for six years now, having taken the 24-hour training course.
"To me, it's one of the hardest aspects of firefighting and emergency medical services," he said. "Keeping watch over the ‘flock' in other than physical ways can be stressful but it can also be rewarding."
He noted that while it is a small community he lives in, it has seen its share of tragedies.
"We lost Elwood (Queen), our neighboring company lost Roy (Westover), and we lost our long-time mentor Bruce (Braniff)," Burchill said. "There is a bond that forms with neighboring companies and your own, and repeatedly being subjected to traumatic events and circumstances can quickly take its toll."
While doing all of these different duties, Burchill has had his own battles to contend with.
In 2006, in a bizarre series of events, he was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. He had a toothache and on Jan. 1, 2006, he woke up and his entire face was swollen, so his wife, Anna, took him to the hospital.
"They immediately transferred me to Pittsburgh," he said. "When I left Altoona hospital, via ambulance, the doctors told my wife I only had six months to live."
He said she chose not to tell him that, and he's glad. He said the melanoma was in his eye and they told his wife when it gets there, it is the final stage and death is nearly the next thing.
"I'm glad she didn't tell me," he said. "She has always been the strong one. I knew no matter what took place, I'd have her unconditional support."
He said once he arrived in Pittsburgh, the first two phone calls he received were from Terry Collins Sr., Irvona fire chief, and Jeff Kennedy, Irvona Ambulance supervisor.
"My ministry wasn't to end though," he said. "While I lost an eye, I'm still here. I'm a very rare case where the melanoma originated in my eye and stayed there. The doctors never saw that before."
The disease usually starts in the liver and works its way to the eye, but thankfully, Burchill was an exception. He said he saw 48 different doctors in 18 months. His treatment included five days of radiation and he had to stay in isolation.
Every six months he returns to Pittsburgh for a series of tests and checkups to make sure nothing is coming back.
He was doing well until December 2011 when he got sick with something completely different. He said he was sick and had no normal symptoms, but by the end of January he couldn't walk or eat. On Jan. 25, he was taken to Altoona Regional Health System, where they did scans, blood work and an MRI.
He said it took them nine hours, but they found an abscess in his right hip.
He said it was called streptococcus type B.
They found it on a Friday at Altoona Hospital and deliberated what to do. Should they send him to Pittsburgh, should they find someone who can operate on him, what were their options.
"Finally, the new trauma surgeon came in and told me he could operate, but it wouldn't be pretty," Burchill said. "It was so bad, the doctor had to take his hands and dig it out."
He was sent home with a 7-inch drainage tube that was to stay in for seven weeks.
After two weeks, the tube fell out. The hospital decided not to replace it, and then within four days he got another infection. It was treated with antibiotics for three months.
When he got home he was using a walker, and then improved to a cane and after two months of therapy, he's back to normal and working and volunteering again.
He's a walking miracle following both incidents, but that has never kept him from volunteering.
While in firefighting and EMS, he has endured other problems. He has had back surgery due to a fragmented disc, tore ligaments in his knee, broke a thumb and he gets muscle spasms in his back, all injures from volunteering.
"I'm not proud of it," he said of the injuries. "But I don't let them slow me down either."
His father, Bob, was also a volunteer; he was a member of Glendale Fire Department for many years, and he volunteered as a Meals-on-Wheels driver until the time of his death.
Paul Burchill has his emergency medical technician license and has his rescues certification, and he recently took a pre-hospital trauma life support class.
"I've made some really good friends through Clearfield, Blair and Cambria counties," he said. "Guys like Joe Adams and Herb Nagle have taught us that, whether you're paid or volunteer, you're a professional, so act like one."
Burchill said he realizes he is just a very small part of what it takes to complete a team effort and make the companies function properly, but he said it encourages him to see the young people grow into productive adults.
"When you think you may have been a small influence in any part of that, it brings you satisfaction," he said.
While Burchill has given of his time, he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, but he wanted to remember the unsung heroes of it all.
"The unsung heroes are the family members left at home," he said. "They are left at home and neglected when we rush to calls, but they still support us, and I have to thank them."