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Honoring their own

Brattleboro Fire Department presents biennial awards

BRATTLEBORO—The Brattleboro Fire Department’s biennial awards ceremony on Sunday opened with honoring firefighters’ families for putting family on hold during emergencies. It concluded with bestowing the Distinguished Service Award to Chief Michael Bucossi.

After receiving the award, a surprised Bucossi first threatened to give the department “heck,” then said, “That award should have gone to this whole department.”

The fire department honors members every other year for exemplary acts in the line of duty. Awardees are nominated by fellow firefighters. An awards committee makes the final decision.

The department also recognized several firefighters for time in service.

On paper, the awards and corresponding honorees were listed in humble black and white. The stories behind the awards told of lives saved.

The Meritorious Unit Citation is awarded to any group of two or more department members — working as a company, team, or employee work group — “who performed in an outstanding manner worthy of recognition.”

Case in point: A month after Tropical Storm Irene’s floods tore through Vermont in August 2011, Lt. Marty Rancourt, Lt. Chuck Keir, III, Alarm Superintendent Joe Newton, and firefighter Rusty Sage responded to a barn collapse in Williamsville.

According to Bucossi, the barn had collapsed during Irene. The owner crawled into the damaged structure to salvage items from the building.

Flood waters had chewed the land around the barn, leaving unstable soil and timbers behind. After the owner had gotten inside, the structure shifted and trapped him under a beam.

The firefighters stabilized the collapsed barn and cut away the debris trapping him, and he survived.

The Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) Save Award went to six firefighters who performed CPR “on a breathless, pulseless patient” who through resuscitation efforts “[was] revived from clinical death” and recovered enough to be discharged from a medical facility.

Lt. Chuck Keir, III, and firefighter Mike Heiden helped revive a woman in 2012; in 2011, Lt. Mark Geno and firefighter Paul Sherburne responded to a man in cardiac arrest; firefighters Josh Jones and Mike Heiden used life support methods on a man who had fallen from a ladder and had no pulse by the time the firefighters arrived.

Firefighter Rick Crespo was named Firefighter of the Year for his ongoing commitment and service to the department and the citizens it serves.

“He jumps in and helps where he’s needed,” said Bucossi.

Bucossi also commended Crespo for the professional way he manages crowd control during stressful accidents and fires.

Assistant Chief Peter Lynch took the podium to award Bucossi the Distinguished Service Award, given “to any member of the fire department for an act of service involving personal risk, which is performed in a manner substantially beyond normal expectations in the line of duty.”

Lynch said Bucossi went above and beyond the call of duty as incident commander of the devastating Brooks House fire April, 17, 2011.

Lynch described the blaze that tore through the 1871 landmark as a “high-risk, very complicated fire.”

As incident commander, Bucossi took charge of 23 responding fire departments, 150 firefighters, a 62,000-square-foot-building, and a roaring fire that had a heavy head start.

The fire presented responders with many challenges, said Lynch, starting with the building’s immense size. Next, the multiple renovations common in older buildings such as the Brooks House provide voids for the fire to travel through quickly — and sometimes undetected.

Firefighters finished rescuing tenants moments before the building was deemed too hazardous to enter, said Lynch.

Firefighters helped evacuate residents from the top two floors. No one was seriously injured.

It took 1{1/2} million gallons of water to douse the flames. According to Lynch, it took 10 hours to contain the fire. It was another 26 hours before Bucossi declared the fire extinguished.

Bucossi’s focus on the safety of the firefighters, residents, other first responders, and the town as a whole helped ensure a positive outcome and was “nothing less than incredible,” said Lynch.

Town officials and staff also attended the ceremony.

Town Manager Barbra Sondag thanked the department members for their dedication, teamwork, and for everything firefighters do, “known and unknown,” for the community.

“With your job, you don’t leave it behind when you leave the scene of an accident or fire,” she said.

Bucossi said that the awards ceremony, which took place at Central Station on Elliot Street, probably would be the last time the ceremony will be held in the fire station “as we know it.”

The town has approved renovations to the two fire stations, Central and West Brattleboro stations, and the police station at the Municipal Center.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #200 (Wednesday, April 24, 2013).

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