Sponsor: Wells Fargo
Responding to a multi-unit building fire on Main Street in February of last year, Bridgeport Fire Captain Frank Bridge was among the first firefighters on the scene. Soon after residents noticed the fire, it became intense. Many residents of the 29 unit structure rushed to alert neighbors and flee the building as the fire grew. Some residents alerted firefighters that a resident of the first floor was unaccounted for and might be inside, unable to escape. Captain Bridge and his Engine 10 colleagues immediately set out to perform a search. Bridge was the first of the team to enter the building.
Fighting heavy smoke down to floor level and very high heat, Bridge located the unit in question and found the door locked. He called for forcible entry tools and then moved down the corridor to the next unit, which was the origin of the fire. He closed the unit’s door to prevent fire spreading to the corridor and reduce heat, giving firefighters more time to enter the first unit.
When they were able, the team forced the door of the first unit and Captain Bridge entered, followed by his Engine 10 colleagues. Bridge found the occupant unconscious in the kitchen. He dragged him from the unit and to safety outside the burning building, where medical personnel began treatment and transported the victim to the hospital. Bridge and his colleagues did not stop with this rescue.
A letter from Martin Schwartz, CEO of the Kennedy Center, to Bridgeport Fire Chief Brian Rooney shortly after the fire noted the Bridge was especially helpful in aiding the evacuation from her unit of a Kennedy Center client with an intellectual disability. “In discussions with our client it became obvious that her ability to utilize a second means of egress, as well as the calm demeanor of the fireman who assisted her, resulted in an extremely positive outcome.”
Sponsor: Wells Fargo
To his nominator, New Haven Acting Fire Marshal Faustino Lopez, Jaime Polite is the personification of the term “hero” and he describes it this way: Heartfelt Extraordinary Responsibility to Others.
The act that prompted Lopez’s nomination was Polite’s save of a drowning victim. While at a picnic with his firefighters’ fraternal organization in Lighthouse Point Park, Polite and his colleagues were alerted to a problem nearby. Finding a man floating face down in the water, Polite, aided by colleagues, performed CPR on the man until medical personnel arrived to transport him to the hospital.
Lopez says Polite has a history of helping others. As a child, Polite learned the importance of compassion while supporting his mother in her battle against breast cancer. Lopez writes, “She eventually succumbed to the disease; but she gave Jaime the spirit to always try to conquer those things that seem insurmountable.”
Polite earned commendations and recognitions for his hard work and bravery while in the military. Joining the New Haven Fire Department in 1998, Polite continued to distinguish himself with service above and beyond the call of duty.
During a medical call, Polite met a resident disabled by surgery. Deserted by an abusive spouse and without her son, who was serving in the military, she had no resources. Polite, Lopez writes, “developed a relationship of caring and assistance. She keeps in touch with him to this day.”
When Polite, responding while off duty to a 2010 fire, learned that a baby displaced by the fire had no clothes, he left the scene to purchase several outfits for the child and a cell phone for another family member to keep in touch with her mother admitted to the burn unit at Bridgeport Hospital.
Polite spearheaded a collection campaign for victims of a major fire in 2011, gathering clothing, funds and other much-needed items. In 2012, he helped to lead a project from his fraternal organization to select two deserving teens and provided them a prom night to remember, with outfits, a limousine ride, a motorcycle escort and more.
Now, Lopez writes, Polite is undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. He says Polite is handling his battle with characteristic grace and good cheer, focusing on the future. For his part, Polite writes that he is “surprised and humbled” by the recognition.
Sponsor: Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield
When a power boat crashed in Stamford Harbor in the late night hours of July 22, 2012, Stamford Firefighters Joseph Maida and William O’Connell and Darien Police Officer Dan Ehret soon found themselves part of a complicated and dangerous rescue attempt.
The boat had hit the seawall in the harbor with tremendous force, seriously damaging the boat and causing it to capsize. A police boat from Oyster Bay, N.Y., was first to arrive on the scene and rescued two passengers thrown clear of the capsized boat. Two other passengers remained trapped.
Officer Ehret was already in the water when Firefighter Maida entered the water in diving gear to help rescue the trapped boaters. Groping his way in pitch darkness through the heavily damaged boat, Maida found a man and a woman in a small air pocket in what was left of the boat’s cabin. Attempts to guide the woman to safety failed when Maida and the woman could not fit together through the small spaces in the boat. Firefighter O’Connell was now in the water and carrying a smaller air tank for the boaters to use individually. He entered the capsized boat while Ehret and Maida remained outside, ready to help guide the boaters to safety.
O’Connell was able to affix a breathing respirator to the male boater and guide him out of the wreckage, where Maida was under water and able to take him to safety. His own air supply now running low, Maida was ordered out of the water. O’Connell returned to the submerged cabin. Officer Ehret remained in the water alongside the boat to help.
For nearly 30 minutes, O’Connell tried to convince the trapped woman to cooperate with rescue attempts. With oxygen diminishing in the cabin and the woman increasingly panicked, O’Connell had to work fast to convince her that the only way out was through the wreckage. O’Connell quickly gave her instructions on using the respirator and began pulling her through the wreck to safety. His own tank now exhausted, Ehret was making “free dives” below to help them out.
Debris from the wreck made maneuvers difficult. O’Connell sustained a gash to his hand requiring eight stitches, but the passengers were rescued without further injury.