On July 18, 1968, a bulldozer working on a road construction project in Yonkers, N.Y., struck an underground gas line, resulting in a stream of gas shooting into the air.
Nearby stood John Kane, the senior patrol leader for Troop 4 in Bronxville, N.Y. It didn’t take long for the 15-year-old to realize the severity of the situation.
He could smell the dangerous, flammable gas filling the air around him. He worked at a restaurant nearby that contained a kitchen with open flames on gas-burning stoves.
As the construction workers scattered from the scene in terror, young John had a decision to make.
Five decades later, on Dec. 1, 2019, Thomas Kane, 17, John’s nephew, also with Troop 4, awoke early in the morning in his Scarsdale, N.Y., home to find his room filling with smoke.
Thomas called 911, then tried to put the fire out with a wet shirt. But the flames were spreading too fast, and Thomas knew it was time to go. As he escorted his father, mother and sister out of the house, Thomas realized his grandparents were still in their room on the home’s top floor, likely unaware of the emergency.
At that moment, with his home rapidly filling with smoke and fire, young Thomas had a decision to make, too.
Both John and Thomas chose bravery.
As a result, both earned lifesaving awards from the BSA’s National Court of Honor. And both were featured in Scouts in Action — exactly 51 years apart.
Never tell them the odds
The chances of something like this happening are, in a word, slim.
In 1969, the year the elder Kane was officially presented with his award, BSA records show that there were more than 250 lifesaving awards presented to Scouts across the country. The editors of Boys’ Life (at the time) would have had to choose 12 of them to feature in the magazine over the next year.
In the years that followed, the system by which Scouts earn lifesaving awards changed. Nowadays, many of these same awards are presented at the council level, meaning the records would no longer be kept at the national office.
Still, in late 2020, the editors of what was about to be called Scout Life magazine had to examine, scrutinize and evaluate several dozen stories of Scout life-saving heroism to select the subjects for the 10 issues of the magazine that would be printed over the following 12 months.
But maybe this is the most important thing: It wasn’t until after Thomas Kane was selected to appear in Scouts in Action that the Scout Life staff realized his uncle had appeared in their magazine 51 years earlier.
What are the odds?
Troop 4 appears to have a long history of helping to save lives. So much so that their website has an entire page dedicated to it.
There was the time on a hike up a steep hill that three older Scouts came across a woman suffering from exhaustion, unable to move, while her companion looked on with no idea how to help. The Scouts wrapped the woman in a blanket to keep her warm, gave her some water, and raised her feet to improve blood flow as Troop 4 adults called for help.
Then there was the time a Scout was playing a casual game of football when one of his companions began suffering from symptoms that only the Scout recognized as a heart attack. An emergency room physician confirmed that the Scout saved the boy’s life by rushing him to a hospital so quickly.
And then there was that fateful day in 1968, when SPL Kane just happened to be standing nearby as that bulldozer ruptured a gas line.
“Turn Off Your Stoves and Call the Fire Department!”
“I remember there was a jet of gas going up hundreds of feet into the air,” says John, now 68, from the home he shares with his wife in the mountains of western North Carolina. “It was pushing the trees apart.
“I thought it was a good idea to turn off the pilot light and divert traffic from the area until the authorities could show up and cut this thing off.”
While others around him panicked, John remained calm. He told the restaurant’s owner to turn off all the stoves and call the police, then he ran into the street and directed traffic away from the scene. When the police and fire department arrived, John’s work was done.
He said appearing in Boys’ Life maybe wasn’t that big of a deal to him, but it certainly was to his mother — a framed copy of the story hangs on the wall of her Hartsdale, N.Y., home to this day.
When John first joined Troop 4, he remembers an older Scout name Howie Rakov who took many of the younger boys under his wings. Today, “Howie” is Dr. Howard Alden Rakov DDS, and he’s the Scoutmaster of Troop 4, where Thomas is currently a member.
“He Saved His Family From A Fire!”
When Thomas turned on the lights and saw smoke in his room at 5 a.m., he immediately knew the situation was serious. He sprung out of bed, threw on some clothes and began yelling to wake up everyone else in the house.
Knowing they were going to have to evacuate and realizing it would be freezing outside, Thomas began gathering jackets and sweaters to make sure everyone would be as comfortable as possible. He soon realized his grandparents, who were sleeping in the upstairs bedroom, hadn’t come out.
“This was when being a Boy Scout became very useful, for I had to be brave,” Tom wrote in his statement to the BSA’s National Court of Honor.
He ran upstairs, woke his grandparents and calmly explained that they all needed to get out of the house right away.
Once outside, Tom handed out the clothing that kept his family warm until the fire department arrived.
“I believe my Scout training really helped me handle this emergency,” Tom says. “Fortunately, no one was hurt. I am very thankful for the training and experience I gained through Scouts.”
Click here to read Thomas Kane’s Scouts in Action from August 2021, along with most Scouts in Action comics from recent years.