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Officer extinguishes fire to rescue medical unit.

One day last September, a nurse at the Vandalia Correctional Center in Illinois notified Sgt. Joe Kelly that the hot water was out in the prison's health care unit. When Kelly went to inspect the hot water heater on the unit's lower floor, he was alarmed to find six-foot flames leaping from the heater toward the ceiling.

He ran upstairs to get a fire extinguisher, returned and doused the flames before the health care unit, then housing five inmates, caught fire. Kelly then turned off a gas valve that was leaking due to a broken regulator. The water heater's pilot light had ignited the escaping gas.

Kelly, who was the facility's fire chief until he was promoted to sergeant in 1989, was named the facility's Employee of the Month for his quick thinking and response to a dangerous situation.

In addition to his duties as correctional sergeant, Kelly is the facility's telecommunications coordinator, CPR instructor and safety and sanitation inspector.

The incident in the health care unit was Kelly's first serious fire emergency at the facility, but it was hardly the first fire he's extinguished. He's been chief of the volunteer fire department in Brownstown, where he lives, for 12 years.

Kelly began his career as a corrections officer in 1977. Before that, he worked at a construction job 100 miles from home. "That kind of commute makes it difficult to take care of a family." Kelly said. "I should have started in corrections 10 years sooner. It's great work."
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Title Annotation:Best in the Business; Sgt. Joe Kelly of the Vandalia Correctional Center in Illinois
Author:Ogburn, Kevin R.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:Heroic acts prevent major tragedy during facility fire.
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