Ordinary people honored as true heroes
Published: March 27, 2008 | 6964th good news item since 2003
Heroism no longer has the distinction it once did. Athletes are called heroes for tossing a ball through a hoop. Philanthropists are called heroes for signing a check.
On Wednesday, a group of real heroes — people who over the last year put their lives on the line for others they never knew — got their due at the annual American Red Cross Heroes of Mid-Fairfield County Breakfast at the Trumbull Marriott.
Among those honored was Bridgeport City Councilman Angel dePara, who on June 30, 2007, dashed into a burning tenement on Stillman Street to save an elderly woman and a young girl, and returned to the flames to save another man in his 20s. He returned a third time to make sure no one was left behind.
“I still run into him sporadically,” dePara said of the man he led to safety. “I was walking down the street a few weeks after it happened and I hear this guy call out, ‘Hey hero!’ — it turned out to be him.”
He also said that the elderly woman didn’t seem too eager to be rescued. “She thought that I was going to kidnap them or something. I literally had to drag them out.”
Another of the Heroes was Fairfield police Officer James Pauciello, who on Feb. 1, 2007, rescued a 13-year-old girl trying to take her own life by standing on the train tracks. He pulled her to safety just as a 100-mph Acela Express train was bearing down on her. As the train rushed by a few feet away, he had to fight her struggles to throw herself under its wheels. Hero honors also went to Lee Cooper, of Westport, who while vacationing in Palm Beach, Fla., over last Memorial Day weekend, rescued a 12-year-old girl and an older man who got caught in the ocean’s riptide.
“When I got out there, I realized that I could only save one at a time,” he said. “The man said, ‘Well, what about me?’ but I told him, ‘Hey she’s a girl, I have to get her first. But I promise, I’ll come back to get you.’ ” Cooper kept that promise. One of the Red Cross heroes saved a life with her voice.
On July 29, K.C. Duffy, of West Haven, an emergency medical dispatcher with the Southwestern Regional Communications Center in Bridgeport, talked a man through helping his wife deliver their baby. Twenty minutes later, his wife gave birth to a 6-pound, 2-ounce, 19-inch boy. Eleven emergency responders, a radio dispatcher from Fairfield and an American Medical Response ambulance crew were given hero awards for saving the life of bow hunter Neil Champagne, who suffered a heart attack while sitting in his tree blind platform 25 feet up.
“I owe you all venison dinners,” Champagne told his rescuers.
Trumbull lifeguards Cody Hutchinson and Matt Cellini were honored for a rescue July 11, 2007, of a young girl who was pulled, nearly lifeless, from the bottom of the town’s Beaches Pool.
After two minutes that must have seemed like an eternity, the girl coughed up pool water and began crying.
Also receiving the award were Trumbull police Officers Douglas Smith and Jay Leos, who responded to the scene of a horrific accident on the Merritt Parkway on Jan. 26, 2007, in which a Subaru split in two after striking a tree.
The driver, a young woman, is believed to have suffered among the worst injuries ever suffered in a Trumbull car crash and survived.
The two Trumbull rescues prompted Trumbull First Selectman Raymond Baldwin, the ceremony emcee, to remark: “After hearing these stories, it sounds like Trumbull’s a very dangerous place to live.”
Bridgeport Firefighters Eric Levine, John Prusak and Frank McNellis received an award for saving a woman on March 7, 2007, from a burning home, which involved setting up a 28-foot ladder to reach a second-floor porch roof, and another 14-foot ladder to access a third-floor window.
The woman, who was unconscious, had to be revived on the porch roof before she could be brought to the ground.
Also honored were Stratford sisters Caitlin and Rebecca Simon, who collected more than 1,000 Beanie Babies to send to soldiers in Iraq so they could be given to children in that war-torn nation.
The sisters also sold bookmarks to purchase defibrillators for the town of Stratford.
The students of Monroe’s Chalk Hill School were honored for a variety of charitable endeavors, such as organizing a coat drive, collecting food for the hungry, and collecting Halloween costumes for needy children.
Also, George Ciaccio, of Wilton, was cited for spearheading Wilton Commons, a reduced-cost housing complex for the elderly with 77 one- and two-bedroom apartments. It will be completed in 2010.