It’s not every day firefighters find themselves clinging to bridges 150 feet above an icy river on a cold December morning, fighting with a person who is hell bent on plunging to an almost certain death.
It’s not every day firefighters get the chance to intervene and save someone in an up close and personal way. But then again, not everybody is Kaim Rosado, an eight-year career firefighter with the New London (Conn.) Fire Department.
For his efforts in saving the life of a suicidal man by grabbing him and helping to pull him to safety, Rosado has been honored by Firehouse Magazine as recipient of a 2009 Heroism & Community Service Award.
Dec. 12, 2009 was a Saturday. At about 7:18 a.m., Rosado and two other firefighters in his engine company were summoned to assist the police with a young man threatening to jump off the Gold Star Memorial Bridge on Interstate 95, spanning the Thames River.
Rosado said a man in his 20s was apparently distraught and trying to get the attention of a young woman who was the object of his affection. To achieve that, the man scaled a 10-foot retaining fence on the bridge and perched himself on a six-inch ledge above the river, unfettered and threatening to jump from the highest point on the structure.
“It was really cold that day,” Rosado said of the morning that saw temperatures in the 20s. “We parked on the bridge and waited.”
A half hour passed and Rosado said the officer on his truck, a lieutenant, approached the police officers on the scene. He and another firefighter followed suit.
The police were negotiating with the man and the firefighters were told it shouldn’t be too much longer before the man would abandon his threat and climb back over the fence.
They were wrong.
“As we started back to the truck, we heard a scuffle and saw one of the officers grabbing the man through the fence,” Rosado said. “We figured we had to do something.”
Rosado went back to the engine and grabbed a 14-foot ladder, scaled it and came down on the other side of the fence where the man was. Rosado tied a rope around himself for fall protection and the other firefighters and the officers cinched it to the fence.
Rosado grabbed the man’s collar and held on, while the other firefighters and officers grabbed through the aluminum rails of the fence, desperately trying to prevent the man from falling or jumping.
“He did not want us to hold him and he was fighting us the whole time,” Rosado said.
Attempts to handcuff the man to the fence failed, as did other attempts to securely tether him with webbing.
At one point during the fracas, an officer got a rope around the man’s leg which prevented him from falling.
“He was hanging upside down by the rope around his leg for a while, but he got sick of that and pulled himself back up on the ledge,” Rosado said.
While Rosado and the officers continued to wrestle with the man, the lieutenant of the crew began cutting the fence to gain access to the man, and to hopefully pull him back to safety on the deck of the bridge. He was not cooperating enough to be brought back over the top of the fence, so they knew they’d have to find another way to get him to safety.
Every attempt the responders made to secure the man was thwarted as he tried to untie every rope or webbing as quickly as it was placed.
“We were fighting with him for about 20 minutes at least,” Rosado said.
Toward the end of the skirmish, Rosado said the man let go of his grip on the fence and Rosado and the two other firefighters and four law enforcement officers capitalized on his defensive move. Rosado got rescue webbing that he kept in his bunker coat around the man’s wrist, and that provided another point from which the rescuers could pull the man to safety.
The situation ended when the police and firefighters swung the man around and pulled him through the hole in the fence created by bolt cutters.