For a group of volunteer Canton firefighters and EMTs who spent a day in southeastern Connecticut this week, the assignment could not have been more poignant.
Damage in the town of Easton was not as extensive as shoreline communities but members of its Fire Department were dealing with a tragic death of Lt. Russell F. Neary, 55, president of the Easton Volunteer Fire Company#1. According to news reports, he was killed by a fallen tree limb Monday night when clearing debris from a roadway.
Canton, responding to the town with some volunteers from Burlington as part of an assignment from a larger task force, were one of many crews able to help the department as they mourned.
“It was a dark, dark day for their department,” Canton Fire Capt. Steve LaPointe said. “They were very happy to see us.”
After working in Canton through Monday night into Tuesday morning, the local volunteers responded at 4 a.m. for Task Force 54, a regional team that brings together specific resources and equipment, especially for larger incidents. After a briefing at the East Farmington Fire Department and staging in Greenwich with other task forces and the National Guard, task Force 54 was split into several smaller groups. Crews in Burlington’s Engine 1 and Canton’s Rescue 9 and Utility 8 were assigned to Easton, arriving at approximately 7:30 a.m.
With LaPointe from Canton were Deputy Fire Chief Craig Robbins, Fire Lt. Juan Gonzalez, Fire Engineer Tom Gotaski, firefighters/EMTs Johnathan Gotaski and Stephen Goeben, firefighter/EMR Jason Ronan and firefighter Chris Melite.
The Canton crew went out on 10 to 12 calls in a 12-hour period, responding to downed wires, an illegal live burn, fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, a false report of an accident and a small brush fire.
Riding with LaPointe in the utility truck was an Easton shift commander. He met a few other members of their department as well.
“The guys were very welcoming of us,” LaPointe said.
Firefighters often talk about the camaraderie of serving and LaPointe said it was an emotional experience.
“It was hard for me not to choke up, especially seeing the bunting go up on the station,” he said.
Just the night before, while blocking off a section of East Hill Road in Canton due to a large branch on power lines, LaPointe said he at one point ran back to the truck after hearing the sound of branches snapping around him.
“It was just so apparent that could have been any one of us,” LaPointe said of the tragedy. “It’s just a dangerous job. You have to get out of the truck and do dangerous things.”
LaPointe and several of the others are returning today for Neary’s funeral.
“It's the right thing to do,” he said.
It was also Canton’s honor to help a department as it mourned and needed to take care of tasks relating to the death.
LaPointe said, “It was just an honor and a privilege.”