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On-Duty Penn. Paramedic Struck, Killed on Highway

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Rostraver and West Newton EMS supervisor Matthew Smelser was a jack of all trades who took his job seriously—often staying up late researching ways to improve the way he and his staff did their jobs, or looking for home improvement ideas, his niece Krisi Secrest said during funeral services Friday in Monongahela.

He was humorous with “multiple personalities,” and could fit into any crowd—even with the young folks—quick to flaunt his beer pong skills and dance moves, Ms. Secrest said through laughs, as she stood before dozens inside the Marshall Marra Funeral Home Friday morning.  

“He really knew how to make people feel like a bunch of freaking hillbillies, but also, make everyone feel like family,” Ms. Secrest said. 

Strangers knew they were in good hands because of him, she said. And his “high maintenance” personal style never left a “hair out of place.” His outfits had to look sharp, and always included his favorite accessories—his sunglasses and his phone clip. “And if there was too much junk in his trunk, he was going on a diet,” she said.

Almost everyone in attendance laughed in remembrance of Mr. Smelser, as his niece—who was the only family member to provide personal remarks during the service—reminisced about how she and her brother spent much time at the Smelser home swimming. The two were quick to throw sarcastic jabs at one another, she said.

“He was like a box of chocolates, you never know which Matt you were going to get,” she said with a smile.

Mr. Smelser, 43, of Charleroi, was killed just before 6 a.m. Sunday in Westmoreland County as his ambulance was struck by a tractor trailer between Exit 49-Smithton and Exit 46A-PA 51 South. He had just exited his emergency vehicle to help a crash victim on Interstate 70 when he was hit, state police said.

Hundreds of EMS officials, police and fire departments from Rostraver/West Newton, surrounding areas, Allegheny County and other counties paid their respects to the fallen medic. Pittsburgh and state police also joined family and friends as the room quickly filled to capacity. Many local paramedics clad in neon green vests stood around the room, as other emergency officials waited outside for the procession to begin. 

Rev. Richard Roberts officiated and read scriptures that highlighted Mr. Smelser’s “strong faith.” He also recounted memories of baptizing the Smelsers’ two children when they were born—Logan 7, and Adriana, 6. He said he remembered having to hold back tears during the occasion a few years ago. 

The melodic voice of Bridget Leyda, 39, of Monongahela, along with Rev. Roberts could also be heard during the service. Those in attendance joined in on “Amazing Grace,” and quietly listened as the two sang “Glorious Day,” and other Christian songs. Mr. Smelser’s wife of 19 years, Lynn, held and calmed their daughter prior to services beginning, but sat behind Rev. Roberts when the ceremony began.

Mr. Smelser graduated from Frazier High School in 1995, and continued his education with various paramedic and EMT classes. He worked as a paramedic for the 24 years, and eventually became a supervisor for the Rostraver-West Newton EMS Department, while also working for UPMC's Paramedic Response Unit.

Sobs from loved ones and friends occasionally punctuated the air as Mr. Smelser’s niece finished her remarks.  

“I think what tears me up the most is that Logan and Adriana didn’t get him as long as I did,” she said through tears. “But he will surely live on through his babies. I see so much of Matt in them already. Logan has his heart of gold and he takes care of everyone, and always making those wisecracks.”

Although a solemn occasion, laughter seemed to be a flowing theme throughout.

“The light will be no more,” Rev. Roberts said as he ended the service and read from the Book of Revelation. Coincidentally, power in the building went completely out at about the same time. The room went dark as a pine tree had fallen onto a power line in town, snapping the top of a utility pole. Nearly 2,000 West Penn/First Energy customers were affected in Monongahela, a company spokesman said, but most were restored a few hours later.

“What we see from the Book of Revelation is very appropriate for right now,” Rev. Roberts added as the room erupted with laughter. “It seems Matt is trying to tell us something.”

The first responder’s quality of life was “insurmountable,” according to his niece, as well as his accomplishments. 

“It’s just easy to feel angry,” she said. “But knowing that Matt saved lives for more than half of his own, was memorable to those he saved and those he served with, and went out a hero—softens the blow.”

“Matt created a legacy and a standard that will live on through everyone in this room,” she said. “All while staying forever young. And isn’t that the goal? That life was meant to last forever? That what we contribute to the life of others never dies? ... I don’t know what moving forward looks like for us, but I know my aunt and her babies have a whole community as extended family to carry them through this.”

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