Three recognized for heroic actions in ambulance fire

(Emily Thurlow) Two members of an ambulance crew and a bystander were recognized Tuesday for their heroic act.

SANDISFIELD — Selfless, heroic acts aren’t typically committed with hopes of recognition. But on Tuesday, three people were recognized by the state for their actions that saved lives.

While transporting a patient, an ambulance suddenly caught fire on Sandisfield Road in the afternoon of Friday, June 14. But thanks to the quick thinking of the two members of the ambulance crew and a nearby bystander, the patient, a retired military veteran, was pulled out and safely removed before the vehicle became fully engulfed with flames and smoke.

The Chicopee-based crew from Alert Ambulance Service Inc., which is headquartered in Fall River, was transporting the patient from a non-emergency appointment to Berkshire Rehabilitation Center in Sandisfield when EMT Justine Hanselman smelled smoke, according to Anthony Suffriti, vice-president of operations for the company. Hanselman, who was riding in the back of the ambulance with the unidentified patient, alerted the driver Christopher Moccio, of the conditions and moments later, the ambulance went into complete mechanical failure.

The ambulance lost its brakes, transmission and power steering, but Moccio, a Southwick resident and a volunteer per-diem Southwick firefighter, forced the ambulance to a rolling stop just shy of an embankment.

“We aren’t sure what exactly happened, but we lost power to the motor,” said Moccio. “And that’s when my training and my partner’s training kicked in and we did what we had to do.”

Once stopped, Hanselman and Moccio removed the patient from the back of the ambulance, he said.

While this was taking place, a civilian, identified as Christopher Joyce, took notice and without hesitation, assisted the crew to wheel the patient several hundred yards away in a neighbor’s driveway, said Suffriti.

Hanselman contacted dispatch and 911.

Moccio and Joyce tried to put out the fire with small fire extinguishers. When that didn’t work, the pair ran into the ambulance to retrieve a 100-pound oxygen tank out of the back compartment as well as two smaller oxygen bottles and a couple of equipment bags.

“[Christopher] Moccio and the civilian [Christopher Joyce], thinking of the danger still lurking at the ambulance with all the oxygen, decided to go back and try to extinguish the fire,” said Suffriti, adding:
“Within three minutes, the ambulance became engulfed.

Fearing an explosion, they courageously entered the patient compartment to unload all the oxygen and then took an extra moment to think about the patients possible needs and threw some basic life support gear out.”

Firefighters from Sandisfield and New Marlborough arrived on scene shortly after and extinguished the fire, Sandisfield Fire Chief Ralph Morrison confirmed.

Troopers from the Massachusetts State Police also responded to the incident.

As a result of their actions, Hanselman, Moccio and Joyce were presented with citations from Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karen Polito, the Senate, the House of Representatives, International Associations of EMTs & Paramedics local chapter 369 and Alert Ambulance Service on Tuesday morning at the Sandisfield Town Hall.

“I am extremely proud of my crew that acted heroic with incredible courage,” said Suffriti. “As for the civilian, Chris Joyce, most run away from danger, he ran toward it without regard of his safety, to help the crew and patient in need. He’s my hero!”

Patrick Carnevale, director of the governor’s western Massachusetts office in Springfield, and state Rep.William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, were among those in attendance.

“Their heroic actions not only saved lives, but further prevented something that could have put the public at a greater risk,” said Pignatelli. “It was an honor to recognize a civilian hero helping professional heroes helping a veteran hero.”

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