LANCASTER, Pa. -- Lisa Benefiel, a Bell Atlantic - Pennsylvania employee, will receive a national award for heroism this week for saving the life of an elderly Lancaster, Pa. woman. A Vail medal will be presented to Benefiel, a system technician in East Petersburg, by Regina Novotny, Bell Atlantic vice president-network operations, at 8 a.m. December 17 in the company's Petersburg operations center at 1185 Enterprise Road. The award recognizes outstanding acts of heroism and public service by telephone employees. In addition to a 2 1/2-inch bronze medal, Benefiel will receive a check for $2,000 and a citation describing her heroic act. "Lisa's quick actions, sound judgment and selfless concern for another human being remind us what our company has always stood for," Novotny said of the award. "Almost every day, some act is recorded somewhere that exemplifies the devotion of Bell Atlantic employees. This concept of service is more than loyalty to a company or a job. It comes from a sense of individual responsibility for public service."
Benefiel saved the life of Marie Martin of Lancaster by dragging her from a smoke-filled apartment in October 1995. That afternoon, Martin was cooking dinner while waiting for a telephone repair person to arrive. While she waited, she became drowsy from taking prescription medication, forgot the food on the stove and fell asleep. The food cooked away and filled the apartment with thick smoke. Benefiel was assigned to check on Martin's phone trouble, but would normally have gone to dinner before going to Martin's home, but "something told me I should go right away," Benefiel said. She knocked on the door but no one answered. She was about to leave when a neighbor told her Martin was inside. Benefiel knocked louder and kept knocking. Finally, Martin woke up and, with the aid of a walker, was able to get to the door and unlock it.
Benefiel could see the apartment was filled with smoke and that the elderly lady was dazed and disoriented. She rushed into the apartment, picked up Martin, carried her outside and placed her in a chair. Then, she ran back into the smoke-filled kitchen, found the source of the smoke, turned off the stove and helped air out the apartment. Her actions are credited with saving Martin from being overcome by smoke inhalation, the cause of most fire-related deaths according to public safety officials. In a thank you note to Benefiel, Martin said, "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving my life . . . I know that God guided you here . . . You are a very brave girl."
The Vail Medal was created in 1920 to recognize outstanding acts of heroism and public service by telephone employees across the nation. It is named for Theodore N. Vail, early president of AT&T, to perpetuate his ideals of responsibility for public service. All regional Bell telephone companies and AT&T have trusts that fund the award. Individuals are nominated for the award by their supervisor but final approval is given by a special committee at Bell Atlantic. Only four such awards have been made in Pennsylvania since 1984.
Lisa Benefiel has been a Bell Atlantic - Pennsylvania employee since 1988. She started as a customer service representative and later became a splicing technician, her job in October 1995 when she rescued Martin. She is now a systems technician, and installs dialtone equipment.
Bell Atlantic Corporation (NYSE: BEL) is at the forefront of the new communications, entertainment and information industry. In the mid-Atlantic region, the company is the premier provider of local telecommunications and advanced services. Globally, it is one of the largest investors in the high-growth wireless communication marketplace. Bell Atlantic also owns a substantial interest in Telecom Corporation of New Zealand and is actively developing high-growth national and international business opportunities in all phases of the industry.