Firefighter in dramatic rescue of couple from storm-battered house: 'We just never gave up'

A story you'll only hear on KYW Newsradio

Tim Jimenez
November 08, 2019 - 1:24 pm
Bud Henkels has been a volunteer firefighter for 40 years, and he teaches at fire academies in Montgomery County and Philadelphia.

Tim Jimenez/KYW Newsradio


AMBLER, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — When nasty storms rolled through last week, crews rescued an elderly couple who was trapped by a tree that crashed into their home in Ambler, Montgomery County. 

"In my 40 years, I don't think — and other guys are saying the same thing — we've never seen a tree completely decimate a house," said Bud Henkels, a longtime volunteer with the Wissahickon Fire Company.

But that's what happened on Tennis Avenue in Ambler, and Henkels was right in the thick of it last week Thursday night into Friday morning. 

"It was a matter of inches and anybody who was inside or on the fireground will tell you that."

An 80-foot-tall tree slammed into this house, essentially knocking it off its foundation, in last week's storm.
Tim Jimenez/KYW Newsradio

An 80-foot-tall tree slammed into a house, essentially knocking it off its foundation. And 81-year-old Percy Cupid and his wife, Frances, who were sleeping on the second floor, were trapped when their bedroom collapsed onto the first floor.

"The section of tree that had Mr. and Mrs. Cupid pinned was about 8,000 pounds, maybe a little bit more," Henkels said.

One of the volunteer firefighters in the crew is an arborist, and he said the tree was in good shape.

"There was really nothing wrong with this tree, which is the scary part," Henkels said. "It was not diseased or anything."

Emergency responders from the Wissahickon Fire Company, Fort Washington Fire Company and Montgomery County Urban Search and Rescue Team first stabilized the house, a very important part of the rescue. 

"We actually put a spotter. I was a spotter for a while, outside," Henkels said. "They want to know if a piece of mortar falls out, a brick falls out, while they're doing this. (If that happened) the whole job comes to a stop, a complete stop."

But that never happened, and crews were able to continue working, cutting their way through the debris to get to the couple. 

Henkels says it took 45 minutes to get Mrs. Cupid out — she wasn't seriously hurt — then another 45 minutes to an hour to get Mr. Cupid out. 

"Since they had come down through the second floor, and now the second floor was into the first floor area, the choice was made to remove the floor joists and actually remove the floor and let the mattress drop down from where he was," Henkels said.

He says Mr. Cupid was badly injured, but his spirits were not broken. 

"Let's just say he was a wonderful patient for us. He didn't complain at all. It was amazing."

Henkels says Mr. Cupid is still recovering and he hopes to soon meet the firefighters who saved their lives.

Percy Cupid and his wife, Frances, were trapped when a tree hit their house and their bedroom collapsed onto the first floor.
Tim Jimenez/KYW Newsradio