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Brattleboro firefighters honor their own

New award goes to citizen for courageous collaboration during Tri-Park winter flood evacuation

BRATTLEBORO—A theme of service and going above and beyond the call of duty permeated a ceremony to honor town firefighters.

Members of the Brattleboro Fire Department gathered with staff and families on May 19 for its every-two-years awards ceremony, the first to be held in the renovated Central Fire Station on Elliot Street.

The department presented a new Citizen’s Award this year, honoring D.J. Bell, an employee of Tri-Park, who used his backhoe to help fire personnel evacuate the Mountain Home Trailer Park during flooding this past winter.

Bell receives first Citizen’s Award

The new Citizen’s Award goes to a resident who has assisted the fire department, helped improve the department’s programs, or “perform[ed] a specific act of courage.”

Fire Chief Michael Bucossi told the audience how Bell did just that as ice jams in the Whetstone Brook diverted water into the Mountain Home Trailer Park on Jan. 24, flooding homes along Brookside and Village drives, Valley Road, and Edgewood and Woodvale drives.

Bell and his backhoe moved through the swift and cold floodwaters, transporting residents to safety and firefighters into the fray.

Once the evacuation was complete, Bell helped move piles of snow and ice to help divert the flood.

“Mr. Bell’s actions and willingness to help were selfless, helped to minimize damage, and truly made things safer for BFD personnel and the residents of Mountain Home Tailer Park,” Bucossi said.

Firefighters Alex Morin and Will Streeter received the Honorable Service Award for their help rescuing a 12-year-old girl who swam into the Retreat Meadows.

According to Bucossi, on April 5, 2018, members of the BFD responded to a report of a young girl who had jumped into the water to escape authorities. Morin and Streeter, using cold-water-exposure suits, also entered the water and followed the girl through the icy river to two successive islands after she swam into deeper waters.

“She was shaking uncontrollably; her body was numb from the cold water, and she had thorns stuck in both feet,” Bucossi said.

Morin and Streeter finally calmed the girl down and swam her back to the shore and medical assistance.

Five firefighters received the CPR Save Award, issued to department members who perform the procedure “on a breathless, pulseless patient [who], through resuscitation efforts, is revived from clinical death” and eventually discharged from the hospital.

Capt. Chuck Keir and Firefighters Mike Heiden, Ben Aither, Alex Richardson, and Mesa Kennedy were recognized for their work on July 4, 2017 to revive a male patient who had overdosed in an apartment on Elliot Street.

The patient was one of the 12 people who overdosed on heroin over a seven-day period. Eight of those incidents happened on that one day, said Bucossi.

The Meritorious Unit Citation went to four members of the department who responded to a car accident on Chesterfield Road (Route 63 North) in Hinsdale.

When Lt. Josh Jones and Firefighters Matt Hubbard, Ben Either, and Andrew Baldwin responded to the accident on March 9, 2018, they found the driver had died and a second person was trapped in the back seat.

Using hydraulic extraction tools, the staff removed the back door and helped remove the patient on a backboard.

“What made this extraction different from others was that this extrication of a severely injured patient was a Hinsdale firefighter that they all knew, and the deceased victim, the driver, was laying next to the vehicle,” Bucossi said.

He added that the same firefighters were recognized at the New Hampshire Fire Service & Emergency Medical Services Committee of Merit Awards & Recognition Program, where they received the first EMS Unit Citation, Sept. 24, 2018.

‘No more normal’

Emergency services “are much different than they used to be,” Bucossi said. “There is no more normal, and we are asked to do things we never were before.”

According to Bucossi, a firefighter or EMS provider dies in the line of duty every four days in the United States. He added that a police officer dies every three days.

“To keep each other safe, it is important to never stop learning, never stop growing, and always be aware,” he said.

Bucossi took a moment to recognize Brattleboro Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald and thanked him and his officers for “all you do for this community.”

Reverend Bill Steele, pastor at the Green Mountain Chapel on Western Avenue, provided the invocation. Town Manager Peter Elwell also thanked the firefighters and their families for their service to the residents of Brattleboro.

Other awards and their recipients:

Firefighter of the Year: Firefighter Matt Casabona, Firefighter Andrew Baldwin.

Years of Service Award: Five years: Lt. Eric Poulin, Dive Team member Morey Page; 10 years: Lt. Paul Sherburne; 15 years: Fire Alarm Superintendent Joe Newton, Lt. Rusty Sage, Lt. Kurt Schmit; 30 years: Assistant Fire Chief Leonard Howard, Firefighter Richard Crespo; 35 years: Safety Officer Martin Rancourt.

Educational Achievement Award, presented to department members who have continued to improve their skills and knowledge either through additional training or higher education: Alex Richardson: A.S. in Fire Science, from Lakes Region Community College, 2016; Will Streeter: A.S. in Fire Science, from Lakes Region Community College, 2017.

A Thank You to the Town of Putney: Town Manager Karen Astley accepted, on behalf of the town, a thank-you plaque from the Brattleboro Fire Department for the loan of one aerial ladder truck.

According to Bucossi, Putney Fire Chief Tom Goddard arranged for Putney to lend its aerial ladder truck on two separate occasions when Brattleboro’s was out of service.

In a previous interview with The Commons, Bucossi explained that an aerial ladder truck is a necessary tool for fighting fires in a town like Brattleboro that has a compact downtown and several buildings with more than three stories.

“In the fire service, there is a thing called mutual aid,” Bucossi said. “However, this unselfishness displayed by Chief Goddard, Town Manager Astley, and the town of Putney goes far above that and is truly the definition of good neighbors.”

Efforts and dedication

Bucossi opened the morning event by thanking family members, members of town staff, and other community members for their support of the department and its firefighters.

“They all sacrifice so we succeed,” Bucossi said.

Department members gave their families a standing ovation.

The department’s 13 awards “represent the efforts and dedication that Brattleboro firefighters put into their jobs each and every day,” Bucossi said.

During the off years, a six-member committee takes and reviews nominations from staff.

“The committee dedicates a lot of time to this program and a lot of consideration to these awards to ensure their significance,” Bucossi said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #511 (Wednesday, May 22, 2019). This story appeared on page A1.

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