Brockport Firefighters welcomed representatives of Liberty Mutual to their monthly meeting on Tuesday. You might think when an insurance salesman wants to come to your meeting, they probably want to sell you something. On this day, nothing could be further from the truth. Matthew Reiter, sales representative from their Ridge Road office and Richard Fisher, Sr. Branch Manager came to the meeting bearing gifts and greetings for Brockport Fire Department Past Captain William Connors and Lieutenant Timothy Russell for their acts of bravery earlier this year at separate incidents.
While Lieutenant Russell's coaxing a nine year old from the second story window of a burning structure might seem like the reason for this story, it is sharing the limelight with 80 year old Bill Connors responding to a fellow firefighter's distress call two blocks away.
Connors, who was home at the time of the alarm heard his fire radio report that a house was on fire two blocks away. According to his wife, Bill hasn't had protective clothing issued to him for many years. Nor has he actively extinguished fires in quite some time. His role with the department has shifted from active firefighter to more administrative and support roles during his 62 years with the department. However, for some reason unknown to him, when he heard the call, he knew he had to go help his neighbor in trouble. He was also unaware that the home he was responding to belonged to his fire department's former Battalion Chief. Some reports indicated that he ran to the scene, but in a private interview with this writer, he told me that was just not true. As a matter of fact, he shared with me that there are two stop signs between here and there, and he had stopped for both of them. Although, he chuckled a little when he would not allude to how fast he may have been traveling in between those signs.
Bill's wife, Joyce (who taught this writer English in 8th grade) described Bill's actions as nothing but amazing. He quickly corrected her when he informed her there was nothing amazing about it. He said "I am a firefighter, and that's what firefighters do, we put out fires". And put it out he did. When Connors arrived at the scene, there was a garden hose laying near the garage that was showing heavy flames as he came around the rear corner. He turned the valve, the hose (with no nozzle) came to life, and the rest is history. Connors had most of the flame knocked down when the first truck arrived and he turned over the rest of the job to the young guys that were all now arriving on scene. Without a doubt, his quick actions prevented a catastrophic loss to the home.
Looking back on it, he realizes fate had that hose there for him, and some higher power may have had something to do with why he jumped into action, why it wasn't frozen solid on that cold January day and why it charged right up when he turned that valve. According to Connors, who received citations and awards for his quick efforts and property saving actions, the most rewarding message he received came in the form of a personal note and thank you from the Battalion Chief. He has that note and photos taken by first arriving personnel framed in his family room.
On Tuesday when Bill received his plaque, he was accompanied by his wife, Joyce; older sister, Noel Myers, his children Anne and Bob, Bob's wife Patty, their daughter Sarah and her son Angelo. Four generations of the Connors family shared this Heroism Award with him.
In the same Ceremony, Lieutenant Russell's actions were described in detail when on March 14 of this year, he was awakened from a sound sleep only moments before his alert pager would come to life reporting a house fire with people trapped. Before the dispatcher could utter his first words, Tim was in his gear running literally across the street. Tim's twelve year old neighbor was pounding on his door to tell him her nine year old brother was upstairs in their house while the fire raged below. When Tim rounded the far side of the home, he could see the boy in the second story window. He knew there may not be a lot of time before the fire reached him. He had to tell him several times to jump to him, which the boy did not seem too interested in doing. While he was yelling at him to jump, he was joined by a Brockport Police Officer. Between the two responders, he finally did jump. When asked how he reacted after being caught below, Tim simply stated "he just took off running". I guess after having just escaping an inferno, I might have done the same thing. In media interviews, the Lieutenant was asked several times about his actions. Obviously humbled by the experience, he just kept repeating to the different reporters: "I am a volunteer firefighter and I didn't have time to think about it. I just did what I have been trained to do".
Tim too was surrounded by family as he was presented with his Heroism Award. At his side was his wife Erica and their children Ben, Emma and Skylar.
All three families were very pleased to have their firefighters recognized in such a fashion; the Connors, the Russells and their fire department family were all gushing with pride as they shared a standing ovation with the recipients. Thank you to Liberty Mutual for this recognition.