Firefighters honored for rescue of woman from roaring blaze

Nov 29, 2021

As flames crackled through a home at 673 Tucker Road in the early morning hours of a bitterly cold Dec. 28, 2020, two responding firefighters, Dartmouth Fire District 1 Capt. Ryan Cabral and Lt. Ryan Snell, breathed a quick sigh of relief.

The two saw no vehicles parked outside the home. That often indicates that no one is home, which would be welcome news when raging flames and choking smoke fill a house.

Then, neighbors shared devastating information to the contrary: The two people who lived in the home, an elderly woman and her adult son, do not drive and had no vehicles, they were told.

And both were unaccounted for.

They also learned that the woman had pressed her emergency LifeAlert alarm, indicating that she was in the home and was awake and alert, at least initially.

“We rushed in,’’ Cabral said. 

They had no hoses with them but did carry their air packs and something both described as crucial to the effort: Their training. 

The duo’s determination, bolstered by their training, led to the woman being rescued and the two receiving an award for meritorious conduct at the recent 32nd annual Firefighter of the Year Awards ceremony. 

But future accolades were the furthest thing from their minds as they entered the burning building. Their single-minded goal was to rescue the woman and her son.

The fire was still roaring, Cabral said, and the living room had “flashed over,’’ reaching the fully developed stage.

They knew that no one could have survived in that room. So they headed in a different direction, to rooms where the fire was still potentially survivable.

Crawling near the floor and using their hands to locate objects and orient themselves, they continued searching until Snell said the words they hoped to hear: “I got one.’’

“At first I didn’t know if it was a person,’’ Snell said, when he stumbled upon what he thought might be the female occupant on her bed. He had to go within inches of her body to determine that he had in fact found the female occupant of the home.

They carefully carried the woman out to the porch. “She was barely breathing,’’ Cabral said.

To ensure the fastest possible medical assistance, they notified their colleagues about where they’d be coming out of the building and brought her to waiting EMTs for evaluation before being transported to the hospital.

Their work was not done. As paramedics treated the woman and rushed her to the hospital, Cabral and Snell headed back into the house to search for the son. 

They had no luck with that grueling search and later determined why: The son fortunately was not home.

The woman died about a month later, although Cabral and Snell do not know if her passing was related to the fire. 

Receiving the statewide honor was humbling, the two men said. “We don’t do it for the pomp and circumstance of getting an award from the governor,’’ Cabral said.

And both firefighters said they did nothing that their colleagues wouldn’t have — and in some cases actually have — done. 

Firefighters often risk lives to search what ends up being empty bedrooms, Cabral said.

“We just happened to find someone,’’ he said.

They also praised the teamwork of responding fire units from all three of Dartmouth’s fire district and medical personnel.

In a statement, Gov. Charlie Baker praised the extraordinary efforts of Cabral, Snell and all the firefighters honored. 

“Through their courage, compassion, and commitment to helping others no matter the risk to themselves, the men and women we honor today represent the very best of the fire service,’’ he said.

Although they deflect the attention, the two said their efforts underscored why people become firefighters. 

“That’s the pinnacle of the job, to go into a building that’s on fire and come up with a person and have them live’’ Cabral said.