Firefighter struggles; community rallies
Burned in blaze, recovery difficult BY AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
"Come on, it's for a good cause," the woman said as she browbeat her husband to increase a bid on one of the dozens of donated items auctioned Sunday at the Rainmakers Association on East Chestnut Street.
The auction and two-band concert for injured city firefighter Lt. Andre Kelley, which raised more than $4,000 over eight hours, was the latest benefit in a community stepping up to support one of its fallen servants.
City firefighter Kelley was injured in a raging fire Feb. 18 while trying to save two people.
He suffered burns over 45 percent of his body -- his helmet shield spared much of his face -- and he has been in Crozer-Chester Medical Center since.
His condition has been upgraded to stable, and he has been undergoing a series of painful but necessary skin-graft surgeries in recent days, according to his aunt, Jodie Richardson of Lancaster, who attended the Rainmakers fundraiser along with about 100 other people.
Richardson and other family members make sure someone is by his bed around the clock, Richardson said. Physical therapy is a daily routine. "He's coming along. He's progressing," Richardson said. "He has good days and bad days. It's a struggle, but for all that he's going through and enduring, his spirit is inspiring me."
Kelley's wife, Lyondra, has been able to take a leave of absence from her job. But when her husband returns home, she likely will need more time. She sometimes stays in a hotel when she visits her husband at the Delaware County facility. That loss of income -- and those kinds of expenses and care for the couple's two children -- are where fundraisers like the Rainmakers event have softened the blow.
Proceeds from the benefits are handled by Adam Bonholtzer, a fellow firefighter who helped drag Kelley to safety. He's on the board of Lancaster Professional Firefighters Association, Local 319.
The Rainmakers benefit was orchestrated by Jamie Eshelman of Willow Street, a bartender there. Kelley is a Rainmakers member, as are some other firefighters. Kelley, she said, "is a very, very down-to-earth nice person. I called my boss right away and suggested we have a benefit for his family."
For a $5 donation -- many people paid more -- participants got to enjoy a huge spread of food donated by area businesses. Two bands, the Blue Dragons and the Party Bombs, performed. And dozens of items, ranging from beer taps to auto detailing to grocery store gift cards to spa time, were sold in a silent auction. Several hours into the event, Bonholtzer had upped his bid several times to $200 for a surround sound stereo system.
"You couldn't ask for better people," said Juli Heisler, referring to Kelley and his family. A nursing manager at Lancaster General Hospital who works with Kelley's wife, Heisler was bidding enthusiastically on some jewelry.
"It's all for a good cause," the Lancaster resident said.
This was the third organized benefit for the Andre Kelley Fund.
On March 5, Molly's Pub donated all food sales to the fund. It raised about $4,000, according to Bonholtzer.
On March 16, four bands performed for free at the Village nightclub, raising another $4,000.
n A benefit dance and auction, with door prizes, April 7 at Amvets Post 19, 715 Fairview Ave. This event also will benefit the families of those who perished in the blaze.
n A John Michael Montgomery concert April 28 at 2 p.m. at the Lancaster County Convention Center.
n Local Masons will hold a benefit motorcycle ride on Memorial Day, May 27. The ride will leave Lancaster Masonic Center, 213 W. Chestnut St., at 9 a.m. and travel to Gettysburg. For reservations or more details, email lodge email@example.com. Kelley is a member of Mount Horeb Lodge No. 14 in Lancaster.
For more information or for questions about organizing a fundraiser, contact Bonholtzer at 201-0271 or abon firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is Kelley aware of people rallying to his cause?
Oh yes, says Richardson, his aunt, "and he's extremely thankful. He's overwhelmed with the community coming together and supporting and thanking him."