Simsbury police, fire personnel lauded for life-saving efforts
By John Fitts
SIMSBURY – It was an emotional evening Wednesday as Tom Gaffey and Michele Angers not only expressed their appreciation for the first responders who rescued them from the second floor of their burning home the morning of July 6, but also witnessed footage from the incident – thanks to Simsbury Police Body Cameras and editing from WFSB.
“I didn’t realize how scared I really was until I saw that, and I could feel myself starting to shake and be scared but that night I wasn’t being scared,” Angers said during the Sept. 14 ceremony honoring the members of the Simsbury Police Department and Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company involved in saving the lives of the couple and their two dogs. “I was being talked off the ledge and hugged off one - through a window – and it kind of amazes me.”
“We all know about first responders running into the burning building while everyone else runs the other way and that has a far greater meaning for us now, now that we’ve been through it,” Gaffey said. “Our words can hardly express the gratitude that we owe you for that night. You got us out safely when there was no way we could get ourselves out safely. You left the comfort and safety of your homes, and you came out to help us out of a very dangerous situation and in so doing, put yourselves in danger… You deserve enormous gratitude from us, but not only for what you did for us, but what you do for the town of Simsbury all the time. Our town is extremely fortunate to have individuals like you that put yourselves at risk to go above and beyond in order to help your fellow citizens. And, although the words, I think, are totally insufficient, all we can say is thank you.”
It was nearly 2:30 a.m. July 6 when Angers – consistent with her late night/early morning reading habit - smelled smoke, felt “intense” heat and heard noises from the kitchen area of their 270 Bushy Hill Road home.
She called 9-1-1 and Dispatcher Kim Rathbun calmly assessed the situation, asked the right questions and kept Angers on the phone, officials said.
“Dispatcher Kim Rathbun’s voice and words set the tone for Michele’s and Thomas’ survival,” said Police Chief Nick Boulter.
Gaffey and Michele Angers were trapped on the second floor.
As Rathbun kept communication open to all, responding police and firefighters worked in concert to save lives and “knock down” the fire.
Police were the first to arrive and used the homeowners ladder to rescue Gaffey, while also helping to direct firefighters to the kitchen area where the fire was raging.
Other responding fire personnel, meanwhile, set up a second rescue ladder, bringing Angers down to safety.
Responders were also able to rescue Lily, a 7-year-old retriever mix and Sam, a 9-month-old Burmese Mountain Dog.
At that Sept. 14 event, dubbed “A commemoration of Life Saving Actions on July 6, 2022,” officials from the town, state and local emergency services offered their words of acknowledgment and appreciation.
Each honoree also received an official citation from both the town and the state of Connecticut General Assembly and congratulations from officials.
Honorees also received a heartfelt handshake from Gaffey and a hug- or two – from Angers.
Several officials also offered remarks, thanking the individuals involved and for the work the departments do on a daily basis.
First Selectman Wendy Mackstutis lauded each department and praised how well they worked in tandem.
“The collaboration and teamwork that was exhibited in this rescue is what really stands out too – for the bravery and willingness of everyone involved to do whatever it takes to keep us all safe – like rescuing our friends and neighbors and their dogs …. We cannot thank you enough," Mackstutis said.
“The Fire District has a 75-year history of serving the residents and taxpayers of the town of Simsbury. For all of those 75 years, we have strived to be good stewards of our taxpayers' money while at the same time investing in the very best of equipment and the very best in training. The early morning events of July 6, without a doubt, provided a return on those investments,” said Gary Wilcox, president Simsbury Fire District. “All of us on the district are not only proud of the members of the Volunteer Fire company but also the teamwork and cooperation that occurred that early morning with our partners in blue from the Simsbury Police Department, who equally placed themselves in harm’s way to make this successful rescue. Our organizations have a deep mutual respect for each other and this joint effort only made that respect that much deeper.”
Fire Chief Jim Baldis spoke to the long hours and professional training members of each organization go through.
“These actions don’t happen by chance but are due to the training, dedication and focus to respond appropriately to emergency situation that they face. That early morning of July 6, this team of first responders answered the call knowing the seriousness of the situation. Their collective actions underscored what we are all about – protecting lives and property in town. While hoping we never have to face a similar situation in the future, I can say with great confidence that the Simsbury firefighters and police officers of this town will respond with performance and with passion. The training, the ability to work as a team is what we witnessed that morning. And in fact, we see this teamwork play out every day as part of Simsbury’s emergency responding services."
In the words of Boulter, "Michele, Tom and their dogs are here today because of the swift actions the experience, training and teamwork of these officers, firefighters and dispatcher. Through personal risk, physical strength and level headedness, the officers, dispatcher and firefighters saved lives. We are proud of your performance, grateful for your actions and fortunate to have you.”
Formally Recognized were:
Dispatcher Kim Rathbun,
PFC Justin Gualducci
PFC Jessie Marinak
OFC Connor Arnold
Sergeant Daniel Thibault
Simsbury Volunteer Fire Company
Capt. Todd Myers
Capt. Ken Boudreau
Lt. Robert Rust
Firefighter Matt Pearce-Bristol
Firefighter Nick Boswell
Firefighter Eli Brenner
See the video footage from the rescue at https://www.wfsb.com/2022/09/15/body-cam-video-simsbury-couple-rescued-burning-home/