SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The Union Fire District honored six of its volunteers Monday for their roles in helping to save the lives of a local man and his dog back in a March house fire.
According to Chief Steven Pinch, Capt. Tyler Parks and Lt. Eric Holmander were the firefighters who rescued the man and his dog. Capt. Andrew Duckworth and Matt Viner provided support, and Lt. Dan Kiely operated the pumper truck that provided water to put out the fire that broke out inside a multi-unit apartment building in the early morning hours of March 20.
Deputy Chief Anthony Cinquegrana was the commanding officer that night.
All but one of the men, all in their dress uniforms, attended Mondays’ fire district wardens’ meeting, where Pinch presented them each with a certificate and uniform pin.
Parks and Holmander, who was unable to be at the ceremony, received the Heroic Action Medal.
“This is the highest award we have ever given to any member of the department,” Pinch said.
The men also received official citations from the state’s Senate and House of Representatives.
“We may be a volunteer operation, but the skills, training and bravery required is the same as you find with any department, and that was clearly shown back on March 20,” Pinch said.
Parks, a South Kingstown native and University of Rhode Island graduate who joined the department eight years ago as a high school senior, called the whole incident surreal.
“We do a lot of training for something like this, but it’s pretty crazy that it would actually happen,” Parks said. “We have a great training facility, one of the best in Rhode Island. We train for this every day.”
The call about the March fire came in overnight in the early morning hours of a Saturday. The department’s overnight duty engine and Stations 1, 2, 3, 6 and Ladder 2 responded to an alarm at the Champagne Heights housing complex at 364 Curtis Corner Road, just about a half-mile down the road from the fire district’s headquarters.
The firefighters quickly learned someone might be trapped inside the unit that was on fire. The South Kingstown Police Department, first on the scene, had tried to rescue the person.
When firefighters from Engine 21 arrived, they started searching for any occupants in the smoke-filled dwelling.
Parks and Holmander entered the apartment.
“It was an extremely dangerous environment,” Pinch said. “Visibility was near zero. Conditions were at a point where a victim would not survive much longer. Time was definitely not on their side.”
They found an unconscious man in the rear bedroom and brought him outside to a waiting ambulance crew that took him to the South County Hospital, and he later made a full recovery from his injuries.
“There was heavy fire in the kitchen, but we were able to locate him in the bedroom,” Parks said. “He was off the bed so he was a little difficult to find, and there were almost blackout conditions.”
The man was the only resident inside the apartment at the time, but crews working to put out the fire re-entered the building to continue their search and found the dog, described by Parks as resembling a pit bull mix. They carried the dog to safety outside and later took it to a local veterinarian.
The firefighters all relied on their training and teamwork to get a positive outcome from a bad situation.
“This certainly could have gone the other way very easily,” Pinch said. “They all did what they were trained to do.”
The chief also praised the calmness and decisions of Deputy Chief Cinquegrana.
“Command plays a major role in these events,” Pinch said. “Good command structure helps with incoming resources and other things.”
Before a small crowd of family, friends and fellow volunteer firefighters, Pinch and the department wardens congratulated the men and shook the hand of each.
“The UFD members who responded that night, as well as the South Kingstown Police Department and EMS, all put their lives on the line and it is a special privilege to be able to honor those who played a key role in saving a man’s life as well as the dog who was trapped inside the building. On behalf of the entire Union Fire District, I commend them on their heroic actions.”
Pinch said the delay in presenting awards to the men was because the department wanted to make sure it was able to do so in person, after COVID restrictions had been lifted.
Parks, whose day job involves cybersecurity for the government, said the decision to volunteer for the fire department, “was one of the best decisions I ever made,” and urged others to give it a try as well.