Teen who saved officer’s life is now on the force, too

April 18th, 2017 1:46 pm



RIDLEY PARK, Pa. (AP) — From modest hero to police officer and soon-to-be groomsman, life is good for Joseph Chambers.

A lot has happened since Chambers, 20, rescued on-duty Philadelphia Police Officer Mark Kimsey from his burning police vehicle in the city's Grays Ferry section in 2014. The pair have become good friends over the last few years. During that time Chambers not only graduated from both Ridley High School and the Delaware County Municipal Police Academy, but started working as a police officer in Folcroft and, most recently, in Ridley Park.

Today, Easter Sunday, he'll be clocking in for the day shift in Folcroft. For this dedicated part timer - who as a kid never missed a television episode of "Cops" - any day he wears the uniform is a welcome one.

"I've always wanted to be a cop since I saw my first police car," Chambers said, recalling the "Ridley red" cars patrolling the Leedom Estates neighborhood in Ridley Township where he grew up and still resides.

"I always thought they were just so cool. They were people I really looked up to."

Chambers credits his mother, Judi Chambers-Coyne, and his late father, John Chambers, for instilling in him a deep compassion for other people.

"My parents taught me that if someone needs help, you help," he said.

It was a lesson that continued for Chambers when, at age 14, he joined the Leedom Fire Co. as a junior firefighter.

For Chambers, it was instinctual to want to help when he heard what turned out to be an accident involving a police car back on Nov. 8, 2014. Chambers, then 17 and a senior at Ridley, was staying with his half-sister, Megan, for the weekend in Grays Ferry. They were waiting for a brother, Brian, to return with dinner, inside-out pizzas from the Italian-American Bocce Club.

"We were watching TV and heard a loud boom," Chambers said. His sister thought it was a gunshot and immediately closed the windows.

"I didn't know what it was, but I didn't think it was a gunshot," Chambers said. When he looked out, he saw a car and the word police written on it.

"I started running," he said. "The rest is history."

By the time Chambers reached the scene at 28th and Tasker streets, the police cruiser had caught fire and the officer inside was trapped with a couple of broken legs. Along with a neighborhood resident, Dante Johnson, Chambers pulled Kimsey out through the window and moved him to the sidewalk.

"When I reached the car, he was really out of it," Chambers said of Kimsey. "He didn't know where he was. All he knew was that something was wrong."

After Kimsey was safe on the sidewalk, Chambers turned his focus on the driver of the pickup truck that struck Kimsey, who was responding to a priority call.

"He was slumped over and I pull him out, too," Chambers said. To this day, Chambers doesn't even know that man's name.

Due to his heroics, Chambers' hands were covered in blood. For precautionary purposes, he went to the hospital. His brother, Brian, went with him.

"I went to CHOP since I was only 17," he said, referring to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Chambers remembers visiting Kimsey during his stay at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.

"He really was in the right place at the right time," Kimsey said of Chambers. "Unless another cop would have pulled around the corner, I would have still been there."

A tense situation in a tough neighborhood, Chambers didn't hesitate for even a second.

Looking back, Chambers' mother said she isn't at all surprised by her son's actions.

"I was nervous because they had to take him to Children's," she said.

But her nerves soon gave way to immeasurable pride, especially when she accompanied Joe on his initial visit with Kimsey in the hospital, by then overflowing with fellow officers concerned about his condition.

"Oh, my gosh, when we got there and those 10 officers parted ways as Joe walked through to go into Mark's hospital room my knees got weak. It was so emotional," Chambers-Coyne said.

After the rescue, Chambers was hailed as a hero by leaders in Philadelphia and Delaware County. "Whereas some may rush to their own safety or stand by and wait for others to help, Joseph Chambers displayed heroic action, ultimately saving a life; and whereas, the bravery of a young hero like this shines as a bright inspiration to all," a resolution presented by Delaware County Council the month after the incident reads in part.

Chambers and Kimsey even made a guest appearance on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show" in November 2015. The popular talk show hostess flew Chambers, his mom, Officer Kimsey and Kimsey's girlfriend and now fiancée out to California.

"It was an experience of a lifetime to actually meet such an iconic person," Chambers said. "It was awesome."

After graduating from high school in 2015, Chambers decided to take the summer off. He started the police academy the following winter and graduated June 20, 2016.

Through a cousin, he heard that Folcroft was hiring two part-time officers. He went to police headquarters to fill out an application and wound up being interviewed on the spot by Chief Robert Ruskowski.

Chambers left that morning on June 21, 2016, with a job offer. He was sworn in on June 22, 2016.

Ruskowski, of course, heard all about Chambers and how he had rushed to aid Kimsey.

'We heard about him and the next thing, he shows up at the station," the chief said.

"He had experience dealing with emergencies and radio procedure, and he put himself through the (police) academy, which really gave him a leg up," Ruskowski said of his decision to offer Chambers a job.

Mostly, Ruskowski said he was impressed by Chambers' desire to get involved.

Ruskowski said he received a phone call recently from a local university. The caller described how the visiting Chambers stepped up when an altercation broke out and quelled things among some students.

"They just thought it was something I should know," Ruskowski said. "He's a good kid."

Among his fellow officers, Ruskowski said Chambers is considered very quiet.

Ruskowski thinks it's a matter of Chambers just trying to absorb everything he can.

"He is young. But I started at the same age, so did (Folcroft Police) Sgt. (Christopher) Eiserman. We both started at 19," Ruskowski said. "For a young man, he has no problem getting involved."

Just days after Chambers was hired in Folcroft, fellow part-time Officer Christopher Dorman was shot seven times by an alleged drug dealer. Dorman recovered from his injuries and is back on the job.

"I was home asleep when it happened," Chambers said. "I threw on clothes and flew down there in case they needed me."

Prior to being sworn in as a part-time officer in Folcroft, Chambers asked Kimsey if he would hold the Bible as he recited the oath.

"I was super proud of Joe and of the accomplishments he made in such a short time," Kimsey said. "I was happy that I was able just to be there number one, and to be a part of it."

Added Kimsey, "He's like a little brother to me . Joe is part of our family. My kids call him Uncle Joe."

Last month, Chambers picked up another part-time position in Ridley Park. When he was sworn in March 21, his mother held the Bible as his sister, Bailey, sat in the audience.

"I stood there looking at him and I was thinking how proud his father would be," Chambers-Coyne said. "His dad would be over the moon and back up there. We both are."

That's not to say she doesn't worry for his safety out on the streets.

"As soon as he puts on that uniform, my heart is in my throat. But I know it's what he's wanted to do since he was a little boy," she said.

"He played 'Cops and Robbers' all the time with his best friend, Dan, "she said, referring to Dan Cirminiello, a junior at Kutztown University studying business and homeland security who is also in the Army National Guard and ROTC. The two remain best friends.

In their version of the childhood game, Chambers dressed in fatigues as a military person, while Cirminiello donned a police officer's hat.

"It's the reverse now ... but they were always the good guys in the game," Chambers-Coyne said, chuckling.

Ridley Park Police Chief Robert Frazier described Chambers as a "go-getter."

Frazier said Chambers was on the department's radar as a potential hire since he graduated from high school.

"He is a local kid who had ambition and desire," Frazier said.

Still in training, Chambers has been riding with a veteran to get familiar with Ridley Park and the police department's policies, Frazier said.

"He has a few more weeks to go," Frazier said. "He gets better with every shift."

Chambers said he loves being a police officer.

"You never have the same call twice. You got to be on your game all the time," Chambers said. "I just love it."

He also loves the friendships he's building with his peers in Folcroft and Ridley Park, as well as with officers in other departments.

With two police positions, Chambers said the time he volunteers at the firehouse is limited. But he goes whenever he can. Work, too, has cut in the time he gets to spend with friends, including Kimsey.

Hanging out, Kimsey said, is always fun.

"I couldn't be luckier than to have him as a friend. He is a great guy," Kimsey said.

When Kimsey and his fiancee Jennifer Plath of Delaware finally tie the knot June 24, Chambers will be standing there as a groomsman. Asking Chambers to be part of their special day was an obvious choice for Kimsey.

"I feel honored to be part of the wedding party," Chambers said.

Looking even further ahead, Chambers said he knows someday he will be a full-time officer somewhere, perhaps even in Philadelphia.

"I would love to work with him," said Kimsey.

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Online:

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Information from: Delaware County Daily Times, http://www.delcotimes.com


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