Firefighter Justin Tracy Saves a Life

September 25, 2015


Justin Tracy

Justin Tracy

by Doug Robinson

Unknown at the time to firefighter Justin Tracy was that the detour he chose from his normal route to get back to the fire station would save a life.  That simple left turn on Friday, April 11, 2014, at 10:40 p.m. was the beginning of a course of events to ultimately rescue a man from an accidental house fire.

New Hampshire Fire and Emergency Medical Services recently acknowledged Tracy, now a Hudson firefighter, for his act of heroism with a merit award.  Each year the NHFEMS Committee of Merit, recognizes acts of heroism and courage performed by members of the fire service across New Hampshire.

On that fateful April night, Tracy, 21, was working as a volunteer firefighter for the Swanzey, N.H., Fire Department.

“He risked his life to save the life of another,” commented Fire Chief Norm Skantze of the Swanzey all-volunteer fire department.  “Without regard to his own life, he acted as he had been trained, and because of his detail to procedures, he successfully saved the life of Mr. Blair.  It was a very important event.”

At the time, Tracy lived and worked at the fire department as an intern, while attending Keene State College.  Tracy attended Keene State to earn his work safety occupation and health applied science degree.

Like most college students, Friday night was a time to “hang out, be with a friend, and eat pizza or Chinese.”

On this specific Friday night, his leftover Chinese dinner was riding next to him in the front seat.  In the trunk of his car, he had his ever-ready firefighting gear.

Little did he know that when he took an alternate way back to the Swanzey fire station, “the long way so that I could just relax a little more” that he would be minutes away from saving the life of 62-year-old Kenneth Blair.

“I looked to my right and I saw the fire,” Tracy recalled.  “Through the trees, I saw a two-story wooden frame building filled with heavy smoke.  As I called in to the station to report the fire and that it was on the B side (left) of the house, I could hear the screams of a person in the house.

“I did not know where the screams were coming from.  After I donned my gear from the trunk of my car, I ran to the house, listening and looking for an entry to the house.  I found a door at the back of the house and I could hear the screaming voice become louder.

“Holding my breath because I did not have a SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) I entered the house through the flames and very heavy smoke.  ‘Where are you, I shouted.’

“He was lying on the floor a few feet in front of me, heavily burned and unable to get up.  ‘Hold on to me’ and I reached down and gave him a bear hug.  I remember him grabbing me around my neck and then we just ran back the way I came.  We ran out the door and then back around to the front of his home to my car.  I laid him down in the back of my car where I used some water and paper towels to treat his burns.  It seemed like forever for the ambulance to show up.”

Yet, only eight minutes had passed.  “We responded to the fire in eight minutes,” explained Chief Skantze.  “He never left Blair and continued to treat him until the ambulance arrived.  He then assisted the ambulance attendant with the transporting of Blair from his vehicle to the ambulance.  When this was done, he returned to the fire.  Everybody needs to know the poise and commitment of this young firefighter.  He was textbook and for that reason, along with his training, saved a life.”

Tracy truly was in the right place at the right time.  “I learned later that his burns were so severe that he spent many months in a hospital undergoing treatment for those burns,” Tracy said.  “I did visit him in the hospital, and this experience is very humbling.  As I look back and think, if I had not taken that turn, this man would not have made it.  He lived in an area of town that was very remote, and he did not have any neighbors who could have seen the fire.  If I had been delayed or not been there when I was, he would not have made it another 10 minutes.  I was in the right place at the right time.”

Hudson Fire Chief Robert Buxton stated, “Justin gives Hudson a great set of skills that benefit the entire town of Hudson.  The maturity he showed at the structural fire clearly demonstrates his maturity and commitment to fire service.”

Firefighter Tracy, along with his family, will be honored at a special dinner on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Concord city auditorium.