Firefighters Mourn the Death of 18-Year-Old Fire Trainee

Connecticut Firefighters and residents mourned the loss of an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter Monday, who died after an accident while in a training class.


SOUTHINGTON -- Firefighters and residents were mourning the loss of an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter Monday, who died after an accident while in a training class in Wolcott.

Justin Wisniewski, 18, who lived with his parents at 221 Walkley Drive, fell about 20 feet from a ladder and suffered head injuries Saturday while in a training exercise at the Wolcott Regional Fire Training School. The school is licensed by the state, but independent from it.

Wisniewski was wearing full fire department equipment, including a helmet, according to Chief Richard McDonough, who was not aware of any extenuating circumstances, such as rain. Wisniewski was attending a Firefighter 1 class that had 11 Southington students, as well as students from other towns. Wisniewski began volunteering in January, and had little experience in fighting fires.

McDonough was not sure whether Wisniewski was using a harness or rope on Saturday; he said the fire academy doesn't use a net as a rule.

After the accident, about 1 p.m. Saturday, he was brought to St. Mary's Hospital in Waterbury. He died on Sunday, according to published reports.

"He was a good kid," McDonough said. "He really enjoyed being a volunteer. He was considering trying to get on a paid department somewhere."

On Monday night, firefighters at headquarters, where Wisniewski's volunteer company is housed, were receiving grief counseling targeted at firefighters.

"The members of the volunteer company he belonged to, it's been a strain on them," McDonough said Monday. "We will provide critical stress debriefing for his entire company tonight and for the training class tomorrow night."

Wisniewski graduated in June from Southington High School. Below his picture in the yearbook, he wrote, "I refuse to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death." He had worked for a plant nursery in the fall, McDonough said.

The family has requested a funeral with honors befitting a firefighter who died in the line of duty, Fire Capt. Mark Saucier said. The date has not been set. A man who answered the door at the Wisniewski home declined to comment Monday.

"It's very unfortunate, always very sad, a young man," Saucier said. "You hate to see anybody pass away, but once they become members of the department, you take it personally."

Wisniewski is the first fatality during training the fire department has had. He is the first firefighter death in the line of duty in town since former Assistant Chief Francis F. Casale died after emerging from a burning home on Spring Hill Road in November 1981.

In general, Saucier said when a firefighter is on a ladder, another firefighter holds or "butts" the ladder. Firefighters sometimes wear special belts to secure themselves to ladders, and can lock one of their feet to a ladder.

"I'm sure there was someone butting this ladder," Saucier said.


Wake: Thursday, April 7, 2005, at the Carlson Funeral Home, New Britain. Calling hours are from 16:00 to 20:00 hours.
Funeral: Friday, April 8, 2005, from the Carlson Funeral Home to St. Peter's Church in New Britain. Burial will be at Sacred Heart Cemetery in New Britain immediately following. Due to limited parking, funeral (only) staging area will be at the Aqua Turf Club, located on Mulberry Street in Southington starting at 08:00 hours, Friday. Mourners will be bussed to the church, then to the cemetery. For further details, contact the Southington Fire Department at (860) 628-7505 x133. Please call with appropriate numbers of attendees.