Alex Leonard, a senior at Bellows Falls Union High School, was honored by the Vermont Legislature for what they called “his heroism and decisive action” responding to a fire in his family home earlier this year.
Robert F. Smith/The Commons
Alex Leonard, a senior at Bellows Falls Union High School, was honored by the Vermont Legislature for what they called “his heroism and decisive action” responding to a fire in his family home earlier this year.

Bellows Falls teen recognized for ‘heroism and decisive action’

Alex Leonard, a new fourth-generation firefighter, receives a legislative resolution praising his calm actions during a fire at his home in January

BELLOWS FALLS — Alexander Leonard is 18 and a senior at Bellows Falls Union High School. On Feb. 10, he was recognized in a resolution passed by both the Vermont House and Senate for “his heroism and decisive action” for his response to a fire in his family home when he was just 17.

His response to that fire was something Leonard had been training for. He recently finished a one-year trial period as a volunteer with the Rockingham Fire Department, at the end of which he was voted in as a full-time firefighter.

A student/athlete in the BFUHS Work Based Program, Leonard spends part of his day in the classroom and part of it at a job. In his case, it is at J&M Auto in Bellows Falls, where he is learning auto mechanics and working with the firm's towing service.

Dealing with the Jan. 17 fire in his home came at the end of a long day for Leonard.

Late that evening, he had been out in a ride-along in one of the company's tow trucks, responding to an auto accident. He didn't get home to his house on Center Street until around 11 p.m.

“I pulled in the driveway and I could hear a smoke detector going off,” Leonard said. “When I got to the door of my house, I found the smoke alarm was mine.”

Leonard said that his parents had also just been alerted by the detector and were awake and starting to get up. He said when he got in the house he ran up the stairs toward where the detector was going off.

“I saw there was a fire in one of the rooms,” he said. “I ran back downstairs and got a fire extinguisher and told my parents to call 911.”

When he got back upstairs the smoke was so thick he had trouble breathing, and he realized quickly that he wouldn't be able to put the fire out with the extinguisher. He closed the upstairs doors in order to confine the fire and starve it of oxygen, then went back downstairs to help his parents.

“My dad was a firefighter,” Leonard said, “and he also knew that that would help choke the fire out.”

There was another immediate concern. His father has multiple sclerosis and is unable to get around without the aid of a wheelchair or walker, and he needed to get out of the house.

“We put him in a wheelchair and got him out the front door,” Leonard said, “just as the Golden Cross ambulance got there and a BF police officer showed up.”

In the resolution, Leonard is credited with “expertly” aiding the emergency workers in getting his father safely out of the house with calmness and composure under intense stress and pressure. Everyone got out of the house without incident.

There was severe smoke damage, and the second floor of the house was considered a loss. But choking the fire down by closing it off confined it to one room and saved the rest of the house.

Fire and smoke cleanup, and an eventual rebuild of the second floor, will keep the family in the home they have been in since 2007.

In his blood

The joint resolution was adopted by both legislative bodies on Feb. 10 and read on the floor of the Legislature on Feb. 23. The House resolution was presented by Rep. Leslie Goldman, D-Bellows Falls, Rep. Michelle Bos-Lun, D-Westminster, and Wendy Harrison and Nader Hashim, both senators from Windham County.

“Leonard's quick action,” the resolution says, “which Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis praised, saved his family's home and prevented a far greater tragedy from occurring, and his family is extremely proud of this fourth-generation firefighter.”

It was also resolved “that the Secretary of State be directed to send a copy of this resolution to Alex Leonard, to Rockingham Fire Chief Kevin Kingsbury, and to Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis.”

Firefighting may be in Leonard's blood, and it is certainly a part of his family's legacy.

“His great-grandfather is a founding member of the Rockingham fire department,” said Jimmy Smith, owner of J&M Auto and a longtime local firefighter.

“The family has served all around this community,” Smith added. “His great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and Alex. There is a whole history of community service there.”

Leonard also has an uncle who is a fire captain in Portland, Maine.

He said that firefighting is going to be a part of his future. After graduation this June, he is going to firefighting school in Maine. He said his immediate goal is to get his Firefighter I and Firefighter II certifications.

Beyond that he said, he would like to become an EMT, and perhaps, down the road, take on the challenge of getting his certification as a paramedic.

When asked about how he felt about the resolution and being called a hero, Leonard shrugs and chuckles.

“Honestly,” he said, “I closed the doors and I got my dad out.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates