Friday August 31, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Officer Kipp Steinman is a quiet man, he said Thursday. Attention really isn't his thing.

But his series of actions one July morning merited a slew of attention from family members, law enforcement and community members, and earned him the Pittsfield Police Department's highest honor.

Chief Michael Wynn draped the Medal of Honor atop Steinman at a ceremony held at the Berkshire Museum.

"An award of this kind has never been presented in Pittsfield that we know of, [and] it was tremendously appropriate," Wynn said.

Steinman was parked in his cruiser at First and Eagle streets at about 7:24 a.m. on July 24, when he heard a loud crash, then saw two vehicles and debris fly across the air. It was a scene that has been described as "something you would see while watching a NASCAR or Formula One race," according to Sgt. Mark Trapani, who investigated the accident.

Steinman responded to the scene immediately after calling the accident into dispatch. When he arrived, he saw that the driver of the car hit in the two-car collision, Barbara Skalski, was trapped and unconscious.

As gasoline from the car's ruptured gas tank pooled around Steinman, a scene described as "extremely dangerous, potentially explosive, and life-threatening" by Pittsfield Fire Department personnel after they arrived, he remained with Skalski and rendered aid until firefighters could spray foam on the fuel and relieve Steinman.

"I turned on my lights and ran right over," Steinman said. "The driver of the other car had gotten out, and my concern was on [Skalski's] car. There was gasoline pooling around me, and she had a blank stare in her face like she was in shock."

Trapani put in for Steinman to receive the award in a letter that said Steinman's actions are "a model for others to strive for."

"He conducted himself in a way that he kept his head about him," he said after Thursday's ceremony.

A large support system of family members posed for pictures with Steinman before the ceremony, some touting bouquets of flowers.

Dignitaries, ranging from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, Pittsfield Police Capt. David Granger, and Nick Powers, speaking on behalf of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, took turns thanking and congratulating Steinman.

"We're proud to have law enforcement that are so well trained to take actions without hesitations," Powers said.

The ceremony was cut short after a medical emergency involving Steinman's mother, Lois. She was loaded onto a stretcher and wheeled away, but is expected to recover, according to Steinman.