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We all train for that “worst day,” and that day can end up being many things to many people. The non-breathing child, the crash with entrapment, the call where you work on someone in front of their family, a terrorist event – the list of what we could respond to is endless. And we, as firefighters train for that endless list of what “might happen.”
We are in the business of being ready for pretty much anything because when “anything” happens, “they” will dial 9-1-1 and wish we were there five minutes ago. Sometimes we can make that anything get better, but sometimes we can’t.
Another “level” of that “anything” is when we have the opportunity to save one of our own. Such was the case for Captain Rebecca Boutin of the Westfield, MA, Fire Department (WFD).
Captain Boutin comes from a firefighting family. Her mother is a firefighter in Agawam and her husband is one in Chicopee. She started out as a paramedic right after high school and then moved to firefighting. It is, as she said, the only career she has known. And her reasons for wanting to do it originally – and for continuing to do it – have little to do with the awards and accolades she will receive for her actions at this fire, she said. While she is grateful to be recognized, she said, it is a little bit overwhelming to be singled out.
“It’s hard to explain how I feel about it,” she said. “I’m just glad Steve was OK. That was the main thing.”
My sincere appreciation to Captain Boutin, her chief, Chief of Department Mary R. Regan, and Firefighter Steve Makos, who went from “firefighter operating” to “firefighter lost” in this close call. Additionally, thanks to Firefighters Ray Neilsen, Kevin Tracy and Joe Coach, all the officers and members of the Westfield Fire Department and the Holyoke and West Springfield fire departments.
“We’ve got to find him”
The Westfield Fire Department is in Hampden County in western Massachusetts, near Springfield. The municipal department protects about 43,000 people and provides fire, rescue and emergency medical services to the City of Westfield. This full-service department is staffed 24 hours a day by 84 career personnel in three firehouses. All personnel are specially trained to handle EMS, with 34 members at the advanced paramedic level. Members respond to approximately 7,500 fire and rescue calls each year. For fire suppression and rescues, the department maintains four engine companies, one platform and one rescue truck. The department provides services for a wide variety of rescues, including ice, fire, confined space and auto extrication and maintains five fully equipped and certified ambulances.
Single-family-dwelling fires are the bread and butter of most fire departments, and Westfield is no different. But during a March 30, 2012, house fire, Captain Boutin crawled on her belly into a smoke-filled attic moments after it had flashed over and found and rescued overcome Firefighter Stephen Makos. Firefighter Makos, running low on air, was lost and disoriented in heavy fire and smoke. Captain Boutin said she immediately thought, “We lost Steve. We’ve got to find him.” Firefighters who were outside reported seeing a blast of fire shoot 20 feet out the windows. It was bad.
Captain Boutin sent me this email when we first connected, and her words help us understand the kind of firefighter and officer she is: “Deputy Chief Goldfeder – It has been a little bit of a personal struggle as to whether to do this article because it has been a little difficult dealing with the spotlight of this incident, as I received a Medal of Valor. I am very passionate about safety, education and training and it is for this reason that I feel we should share this story. It is because of this passion that I work at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy as a recruit instructor part time. I truly believe that this training helped in this situation.”