LOWER MERION — The term “hero”‘ is a well-worn term these days, but the final actions of Firefighter Thomas Royds seem to fit the bill.
As an alleged drunk driver hurdled towards first responders at the scene of an auto accident on Interstate 76 in Lower Merion early on the morning of July 24 Royds, covering a shift at Belmont Hills Fire Co., pushed other firefighters away as he was struck by the out of control Jeep.
Lower Merion Chief Fire Officer Chas McGarvey confirmed the report that Royds saw the jeep approaching and pushed the two firefighters away in an attempt to save them.
“I haven’t seen any video of it but he one of the injured firefighters said Tommy pushed them out of the way,” McGarvey said.
Royds of Springfield was a career and volunteer firefighter for over 30 years, serving the Lower Merion community at the Union Fire Association and the Belmont Hills Fire Co. as well as seven years as a volunteer in Clifton Heights.
Royds suffered a heart attack in the collision and died that night despite the valiant efforts of fellow first responders who rushed him to Paoli Trauma Center.
Two other Belmont Hills firefighters and a Pennsylvania State Trooper were seriously injured in the crash. Firefighters Sam Shaffer, 17 and Alex Fischer, 22 were both released from the hospital this week.
Shaffer’s injuries included an orbital fracture to his right eye, brain bleed and severe concussion, along with a leg injury with a torn ACL. Fischer sustained a severe leg injury, requiring surgery. He was released from the hospital on June 29 and was transferred to a rehabilitation center to receive physical therapy for several weeks.
Jacquelyn Walker, 63, of Little Egg Harbor, N.J., is facing vehicular homicide charges in connection with the crash that killed Royds. Two other motorists from the original accident were also found to have been drinking while driving.
This is the second line of duty death in less than a month for the Lower Merion Fire Department. Sean DeMuyck of Penn Wynne Fire Co. died in a fire July 4.
Belmont Hills Deputy Chief Rocco Burdo said firefighters were encouraged when the two injured firefighters were released from the hospital this past week.
“It was tough for the first few days but I think it was a big lift when the two got out of the hospital. We escorted them home,” Burdo said.
One Belmont Hills firefighter, who declined to be named, said Royds’ final actions were fitting to his character, saying, “He was like that, he would do anything for you.”
“If there ever was a person who could restore your faith in humanity, Tommy was that guy,” said Clifton Heights Fire Chief Nick DePompeo. “The words, ‘No, I can’t,’ were never in his vocabulary. If there was something that needed to be done he did it and did it with a smile.”
DePompeo said Royds joined Clifton in 2014 and immediately took to the crew like he had been there for 20 years.
“Some of our younger guys took to him greatly, he was like a big kid and a big brother to those guys,” DePompeo said.
DePompeo also credited Lower Merion crews for bringing the Delaware County station into the planning and events of the memorial service.
“It has helped the healing process with a lot of my guys, it helped them to get through this week,” Depompeo said. “Tommy was the first line of duty death (at Clifton) and for some of the younger guys who still have grandparents living, this is their first experience with somebody close to them (dying) and the fact we have been included from the get go, has helped that healing process for them.”
Firefighters far and wide turned out Saturday to honor Royds including crews from Philadelphia and New York City.
“When we had 9/11 all the area firefighters came to help us and we’re just repaying it,” said firefighter Rich Boeri of Engine 44 in Manhattan. “No matter where you are, it’s all the same firefighting community.”
Hundreds of firefighters lined up to pay respects to Royds, who followed his grandfather, father and brother into the volunteer service at Belmont Hills Fire Co. He went on to become a career firefighter at Union of Cynwyd as well as also volunteering at Clifton Heights where he was a captain.
Photos of Royds along with gear from each station, awards and a American flag were on display in front of an urn with his remains. The urn showed an American eagle.
Following the two-hour viewing first reponders lined the driveway from the high school auditorium entrance under a ladder arch with a large American flag flying.
A bagpipe and drum corps played as the remains were carried to a Clifton Heights antique Mack pumper for his final ride.
Bagpipers played “Amazing Grace” which was followed by a final message on the county radio system noting Royds’ last call.
“This is the last call for Firefighter Royds, Belmont Hills Fire Co. Firefighter Royds responded to his last alarm July 24, 2021 at 0304 hours. Firefighter Royds is listed as out of service for Montgomery County 12:24 hours.”