When Lt. Arthur Caissie headed to work last June 26, he had no idea the events of the day would lead him to center stage at the state’s annual top fire awards ceremony.
On Tuesday morning, though, that’s exactly where the reluctant hero stood, being singled out by Gov. Deval Patrick for saving the life of a man and his elderly mother in the two-alarm fire.
“It’s something you really don’t think about; it just happens,” he said after Tuesday’s ceremony. “There was smoke and I didn’t have any equipment, but you don’t even think about that. I couldn’t believe the woman was in there walking around. I saw her and just got her out. I really don’t consider myself a hero. A lot of people have done a lot more with a lot less notoriety.”
The mid-day fire erupted in a grand old home on County Road and spread fast. When Caissie came upon the scene in street clothes, he saw a distraught man on the sidewalk who was screaming about his mother being inside. The man then ran in the house.
Caissie alerted fire alarm as to the fire and went in and quickly removed the man from danger. Then he went back in and, wading through thick black smoke, was able to locate the elderly woman – who was trying to gather up belongings.
He removed the woman from the house, but not without suffering injuries.
Fire crews rolled onto the scene just as he had emerged from the burning home with the woman.
Caissie was rushed to the hospital and suffered lung damage from breathing in the smoke without any protective gear. It took him two months to recover and return to work.
For that effort, on Tuesday morning at the JFK Library in Dorchester, Caissie was awarded one of 10 state awards for Meritorious Conduct given out this year.
The awards came during the 25th Annual Firefighter of the Year Heroic Awards – an annual ceremony honoring above-and-beyond deeds performed by firefighters across the state.
“There is something special about a person drawn to this profession,” said State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan. “We talk a lot about heroes in our profession and being a hero is doing the right thing, at the right time and in the right place.”
Gov. Deval Patrick noted that many of the acts of heroism singled out at the awards happened while off-duty.
“Many of those we’re honoring today were off-duty when these incidents happened,” said Patrick. “For a firefighter, I’m not sure if there’s any such thing as off-duty.”
The ceremonies in Dorchester brought a huge contingent of Chelsea Firefighters and their families.