BRATTLEBORO >> For proof that firefighters and other emergency responders are never really off duty, you need only look back to May 24.
On that day, four members of the Brattleboro Fire Department were returning from training in Hartford when they drove past a serious accident on southbound Interstate 91.
"On the way back, we saw a bunch of cars pulled over on the side of the road," said firefighter Matt Hubbard. "We passed it, but it didn't look right, so we took the next turnaround and went back."
When the four firefighters arrived, they realized there were no emergency responders yet on the scene.
"When we made the turnaround we had a couple of minutes to get ready, to lose the ties, roll up our sleeves and prepare to go to work," said Lt. Eric Poulin. Because he was the highest ranking firefighter on the scene, he immediately took control. "I delegated the tasks so that everyone had a job so we could help the patient in a systematic fashion."
On May 24, at 4 p.m., Lindsay Lutz, 29, of Grafton, N.H., was traveling south when a tire blew out on her vehicle. When her vehicle rolled over, Lutz was ejected. Lutz, who has recovered from her injuries, declined to be interviewed for this story.
"When we got there, a woman was lying on her back on the side of the road," said Hubbard. "We have a medical bag that we carry in the vehicle with us. It doesn't have all of the stuff we would carry in an official unit, but it allowed us to start patient care, hold her head and spine in an immobile position."
While the four firefighters were assessing the patient's condition, a volunteer firefighter from Cornish, N.H., arrived with a radio. He radioed dispatch and called for a helicopter from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.
"It was clear she needed evacuation as quickly as possible," said Hubbard.
When the "official" first responders arrived, the four firefighters from Brattleboro helped the patient onto a backboard and then moved her to an ambulance for transport to the helicopter landing zone.
Lt. Andrew Vinopal and firefighter Jason Gray of the Windsor Fire Department were the first two local responders on the scene.
"It was great to have the guys from the Brattleboro Fire Department on the scene when we got there," said Vinopal. "Everyone worked really well together. Great teamwork and training."
Firefighter Paul Sherburne said when they first passed the scene, there really was no discussion that they were returning to do what they could. "It comes with the job," he said. "We come from a small department and we all know what we have to do and we don't really need to talk."
Firefighter Josh Jones acknowledged that if emergency responders had been on scene when they passed, they probably would not have turned back. "But we knew there was no one on the scene and it could take 10 minutes for EMT to show up. That time could make all the difference." Jones said the return trip to the scene was agonizing. "It felt like forever. It was eight miles to get back."
What all four firefighters know is they chose the career because they wanted to help people, and this was just another day on the job.
"This happened in a town that is removed from our community," said Jones. "But it doesn't matter where or when ... when you are called to help."
"We all have it in our blood; we need to help," said Hubbard, whose dad, Ron Hubbard, has been with the Brattleboro Fire Department for 36 years.
Brattleboro Fire Chief Michael Bucossi said he was not surprised when he learned of the actions of the four men.
"This is exactly what I would expect my staff to do. They played a key role in what was the successful recovery of the driver."
Sherburn and Poulan are the first in their families to be firefighters. Jones' grandfather served as the fire chief in East Dover for a number of years.
Like the Brattleboro firefighters, Vinopal said people in his career field are never really off duty.
"If I was in a different town and happened to be one of the first people on the scene, I would be glad to help."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.