Three Saugus firefighters receive citations for “heroic actions” from Board of Selectmen
By Mark E. Vogler
It was a special night when an appearance by three invited guests – all of them Saugus firefighters who were recognized for putting their lives on the line – overshadowed everything else that happened at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
“Right now is one of the proudest days of my career,” Saugus Fire Chief Michael Newbury told the audience that crowded into the second-floor auditorium at Saugus Town Hall Wednesday night. Newbury noted that actions of the three firefighters at two fires last month exemplified “the highest tradition of the Saugus Fire Department.”
Selectmen presented citations for “Heroic actions that saved a life of a Saugus Resident” to Lt. William E. Cross III and Firefighter Anthony Arone for their courageous response to a two-alarm fire in an apartment building at 7 Falmouth St. on the night of July 25.
The smoke was so thick – from the floor to the ceiling – that Cross and Arone had to crawl into the apartment. Their thermal imaging device failed to determine whether anyone was inside. But when the firefighters heard somebody coughing on the kitchen floor, they acted quickly to drag the semiconscious victim to safety and were later credited with saving the man’s life.
Firefighter Michael Leary also received a citation for “Heroic actions” during an early evening kitchen fire on July 29 in an apartment at 103 Essex St. A resident who fled the building told firefighters that a dog remained inside. Leary located the dog upstairs and carried it to safety.
He turned it over to a veterinarian technician who lived nearby. The technician used a Fire Department mask made for administering oxygen to pets. Meanwhile, Leary went back into the building to rescue another dog.
In addition to the commendations presented to the three firefighters, Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree administered the oath of office to newly appointed Lt. Cross during a swearing-in ceremony witnessed by family and friends. William E. Cross, Jr. – a retired Chelsea Fire Department captain who served with that city’s fire service for 35 years – pinned the lieutenant’s badge on his son.
“I’ll tell you right now – I’m proud to call Bill Cross my brother,” Chief Newbury said.
Cross, a 1985 Saugus High School graduate who has spent more than two decades on the town’s Fire Department, hailed it as “a great day.” “I’m proud as hell today – glad to have the whole family here,” he said.
High praise from selectmen
Board of Selectmen Chair Debra Panetta called the heroic efforts of each of the three firefighters, “a huge accomplishment.” “Going into a kitchen that’s burning … and you’re saving a life,” Panetta said.
“I want to thank you for your services,” she told the firefighters.
“Thank you guys so much … You make us proud every day,” Selectman Jennifer D’Eon said.
Selectmen Scott Brazis, Jeffrey Cicolini and Mark Mitchell echoed the sentiments of Panetta and D’Eon.
“You heroic efforts do not go unnoticed,” Cicolini said.
Crabtree said he wanted to seize the moment to honor all of the town’s firefighters, police officers and first responders. “You put your life at risk to save others and animals,” Crabtree said.
“Thank you on behalf of the Town of Saugus,” the town manager said.
A number of retired firefighters – including former Fire Chiefs Donald McQuaid and James Blanchard – were in the audience to show support for the firefighters being honored.
“They did a great job”
Saugus Fire Department Capt. Christopher Rizza said there was no question that Cross and Arone saved the life of the man who suffered burns in the Falmouth Street fire. “He was barely breathing on his own when they found him, and I don’t think they had too many seconds left to save him,” Rizza told The Saugus Advocate.
“If they had hesitated, they probably would have gotten him out. But I doubt he would be alive. Even the thermal imaging device wasn’t working properly, so they did a great job in finding him and getting him out of the building as quickly as they could,” he said.
Arone, a 2004 Saugus High School graduate who has been on the Fire Department for four and a half years, recalled that the smoky conditions hindered visibility greatly. “You couldn’t see a hand in front of your face, with the smoke going all the way from the floor to the ceiling,” Arone said.
“But these tough conditions are exactly what we were trained for. And with Billy [Cross] having 20-plus years on the job, I couldn’t be working with anybody better. And once we heard that gentleman cough on the floor, everything turned to rescue mode. Bill and I dragged that gentleman out to safety,” he said.
Leary, who graduated with Arone from Saugus High (2004), downplayed his role in rescuing the two dogs in the Essex Street fire. “I pulled one dog out and went back in and got a second dog. The second dog really wasn’t in that much danger,” Leary said.
The fire report authored by Capt. Rizza still credited Leary with the rescue of two dogs.