Firefighters Face Danger Head On (Whomever They're Rescuing)

Apr 5, 2014
Originally published on April 5, 2014 8:18 am

Many of us on a workday fret about when we can break for lunch or what the traffic will be. Men and women who are firefighters might be called upon to risk their lives.

A couple of stories this week remind us of their commitment and their bond.

Scott Hemmelsbach, a firefighter in Muskegon, Mich., ran into a smoke-filled house to save a snake: Chocolate Chip, a 7-foot boa constrictor who belonged to Bridget and Wayne Brewer.

"She's my baby," Bridget Brewer told the Muskegon Chronicle. "I've had her since she was a newborn."

Scott Hemmelsbach probably could have ignored the snake in all that smoke; there was a fire going on. But he says he was touched when he saw the boa "trying to crawl up the side of his terrarium and get out ... he was trapped."

So he picked up Chocolate Chip carefully, so as not to scare her, and put the snake under his firefighter's slicker.

"I'm elated they saved her," says Bridget Brewer. "We thought she would be dead."

Scott Hemmelsbach says, "I would do it for any creature. I'm just glad it had a happy ending."

Bridget and Wayne Brewer are also doing well.

And thousands of firefighters from around the world were in Watertown, Mass., Wednesday for the funeral of Lt. Ed Walsh, a Boston firefighter who was killed when he was trapped in a basement in a nine-alarm fire. Another firefighter, Michael Kennedy, also died in the same fire.

Lt. Walsh was 43. He was married and had three children. His wife, Kristen, told those who served with her husband in the Boylston Street firehouse that she would like to have her husband's wedding ring, but it had come off while he tried to fight the fire.

District Chief Richard Magee, whose own father had worked in that same firehouse and died fighting a fire 42 years ago, assigned a team to search for that ring. They knelt in burnt, sodden ruins and sifted through wet ashes with their fingers.

Just before 6 p.m., as Lt. Walsh's wake began at St. Patrick's Church, a firefighter named Patty Donovan cried, "I've got it!"

The Boston firefighters formed a convoy and rushed to St. Patrick's. They found Kristen Walsh in the front pew of the church, just a few feet from the casket that held her husband. And, as people said prayers for Ed Walsh, the firefighters who risked their lives alongside him gave Kristen Walsh the wedding ring she had once placed on his finger.

"She slipped it on her finger and she started crying," Patty Donovan says. "We all gave her big hugs, and that was it."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Many of us on a workday fret about when we can break for lunch or what the traffic will be. Men and women who are firefighters might be called upon to risk their lives. A couple of stories this week remind us of their commitment and their bond. Scott Hemmelsbach, a firefighter in Muskegon, Michigan, ran into a smoke-filled house to save a snake - Chocolate Chip, a 7-foot long boa constrictor who belonged to Bridget and Wayne Brewer. She's my baby, Bridget Brewer told the Muskegon Chronicle. I've had her since she was a newborn. Scott Hemmelsbach probably could have ignored the snake in all that smoke. There was a fire going on.

But he says he was touched when he saw the boa trying to crawl up on the side of her terrarium and get out. He was trapped. So he picked up Chocolate Chip carefully, so as not to scare her, and put the snake under his firefighter's slicker. I'm elated they saved her, says Bridget Brewer. We thought she would be dead. Scott Hemmelsbach says, I would do it for any creature. I'm just glad it had a happy ending. Bridget and Wayne Brewer are also doing well. And thousands of firefighters from around the world were in Watertown, Massachusetts Wednesday for the funeral of Lieutenant Ed Walsh - the Boston firefighter who was killed when he was trapped in a basement in a nine-alarm fire.

Another firefighter named Michael Kennedy also died. Lieutenant Walsh was 43. He was married and had three children. His wife Kristen told those who served with her husband in the Boylston Street firehouse that she'd like to have her husband's wedding ring, but it had come off while he tried to fight the fire. District Chief Richard McGee, whose own father had worked in that same firehouse and died fighting a fire 42 years ago, assigned a team to search for that ring. They knelt in burnt sodden ruins, sifted through wet ashes with their fingers. Just before 6 p.m. as Lieutenant Walsh's wake began at St. Patrick's Church, a firefighter named Patty Donovan cried, I've got it.

The Boston firefighters formed a convoy and rushed to St. Patrick's. They found Kristen Walsh in the front pew of the church, just a few feet from the casket that held her husband. As people said prayers for Ed Walsh, the firefighters who risked their lives alongside his gave Kristen Walsh the wedding ring that she'd once placed on his finger. She slipped it on her finger, and she started crying, Patty Donovan says. We all gave her big hugs, and that was it.

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SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.