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2008 News Releases

Longwood student honored for heroism in 2007 off-campus fire

August 26, 2008

Tim Cocrane with Jane Erickson, president of the International Kiwanis Foundation, who presented the award. Tim Cocrane with Jane Erickson, president of the International Kiwanis Foundation, who presented the award.

Longwood University junior Tim Cocrane was recently recognized by an international service organization for his role in rescuing three people from an off-campus house fire in March 2007.

Cocrane received the Robert P. Connelly Medal of Heroism from the Kiwanis International Foundation, which recognizes those who have risked their lives to save others. The award was presented Aug. 16 in Richmond during the 90th annual convention of the Capital District Kiwanis. Cocrane was the only Connelly Medal recipient this year for the Capital District, which encompasses Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

"Tim embodies what we stand for as Kiwanians – selfless giving," said Jane Erickson, president of the Kiwanis International Foundation, who presented the award during a luncheon.

Unable to sleep early on the morning of March 3, 2007, Cocrane left his dorm room at 6 a.m. to visit his friend and fraternity brother Ed Cunningham, who lived at 305 First Ave., about two blocks from the Longwood campus. As he turned the corner to First Avenue, he saw the house in flames and sprinted to the house. He kicked in the front door and yelled and banged on doors, waking up Daniel Yates, Scott Freer and Samantha Fulton before helping them escape by jumping out a second-story window. Cunningham and boyhood friend Byron Jamerson, a frequent visitor, died in the fire.

"Many people have asked me what it’s like to be a hero. I tell them all that I don’t feel like a hero," Cocrane told the Kiwanians after receiving the award, accompanied by a standing ovation. He spoke of how the experience has caused him to rededicate himself to his studies and to emulate his best friend.

"I think about Ed Cunningham and Byron Jamerson and I miss them every day. Ed was like a big brother to me, always making me laugh and always there when I needed him. Ed had a dream to be an engineer one day, and he was well on his way to that goal…Although I could not save Ed on March 3, he ultimately saved me. Ed Cunningham is my hero."

The keynote speaker for the luncheon was Longwood President Patricia Cormier, who was asked to speak before the decision was made to grant the award to Cocrane. "Tim is a perfect example of the type of citizen leader, and the caliber of young people in the world, that I am going to be talking to you about," she said at the beginning of her remarks. She praised his selflessness: "Tim didn’t go into that burning building so he could get a medal."

Cocrane, 22, from Herndon, was accompanied at the luncheon by his parents, Rick and Debbie Cocrane, and his girlfriend, Chrissy Cunningham (no relation to Ed Cunningham), a Longwood senior from Virginia Beach.

"This has been a life-changing experience for Tim," said Rick Cocrane. "Before the fire, he wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunities being offered to him, but now he has turned his life around and dedicated it to Ed’s ideals and to helping people. He changed his major to athletic training so he could help people. So, a glimmer of hope has emerged from this tragedy."

Cocrane’s face, hands and ears were burned in the fire, and he spent four days at VCU Medical Center, the first three days on a ventilator due to his lungs being scorched. He underwent physical therapy once a week for six weeks to regain range of motion in his hands. He has recovered nearly completely except for abnormally light skin pigmentation on his left hand and the tips of his ears not growing back.

Tim Cocrane with his parents, Rick and Debbie Cocrane, and Longwood President Patricia Cormier, who was the speaker for the Kiwanis award luncheon.
Tim Cocrane with his parents, Rick and Debbie Cocrane, and Longwood President Patricia Cormier, who was the speaker for the Kiwanis award luncheon
"When Tim was trying to get people out of the house, he slipped on a burning lacquered floor, burning his hands," his father said. "Tim lost his fingerprints for a while, but he says they’re coming back. When he lost his fingerprints, I joked that maybe he should change his major to criminal justice."

Cocrane, a member of Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, entered Longwood in the fall of 2004 as a physics major, planning to be an engineer. He later switched his major to math before settling on athletic training. Due to his fire-related injuries, which caused him to miss three weeks of classes, he withdrew medically from Longwood for the spring semester 2007 on the recommendation of Dr. Wayne McWee, provost and vice president for academic affairs. He re-entered Longwood in the 2007-08 academic year, took a summer school course this summer while working in Farmville for Walk to Campus as a painter and handyman, and is due to graduate in May 2010.

The Connelly Medal honors a member of the Kiwanis Club of Lisle, Ill., who was killed in a 1966 attempt to rescue a handicapped woman who had fallen in the path of an oncoming train. The award consists of a bronze medal displaying Connelly’s likeness mounted on a walnut board with the inscription "for service beyond the call of duty." A $500 savings bond accompanied the award. Kiwanis, which has more than 8,000 clubs in 96 countries, is an organization of volunteers dedicated officially "to changing the world, one child and one community at a time."

Cocrane was nominated for the award by Gus Lamond of Richmond, a member of the James River Kiwanis Club and past governor of the Capital District Kiwanis. "Tim didn’t grow up to be a hero; it was a split-second decision," said Lamond, who attended the luncheon. "We like to recognize these people."

Cocrane recently received another accolade for his actions in the fire. On Aug. 18 he was given a resolution by the Virginia Senate commending him for his "extreme courage and diligence" and "selfless actions and quick thinking." A copy of Senate Joint Resolution 150 was presented to Cocrane by Sen. Mark Herring and Del. Kenneth Plum, who represent districts in Northern Virginia, in a ceremony in a Reston hotel. The resolution was approved by both houses of the General Assembly in February.