Injured Conn. lieutenant rejects fundraiser for himself, OKs scholarship fund

New Haven Fire Lt. Samod Rankins, who was critically injured in the blaze that killed Firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr., has a "heart of gold," friends said

Pam McLoughlin
New Haven Register, Conn.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Injured firefighter Lt. Samod "Nuke" Rankins isn't allowed to use his voice until his throat heals, so when friend and retired firefighter Garry Tinney suggested a GoFundMe page to help him and his family, Rankins gave an emphatic thumbs-down.

Rankins, who will turn 29 on May 22, is a natural born giver, not a taker.

New Haven Fire Lt. Samod
New Haven Fire Lt. Samod "Nuke" Rankins is recovering after being critically injured in the blaze that killed fellow Firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr. (Photo/New Haven Firemen's Benevolent Association)

But Tinney didn't let the issue drop because so many in the community are reaching out pleading to "do something" for Rankins, their ailing community hero. For years he has been dedicated to helping those in need both materially and emotionally: those experiencing homelessness, the children, the marginalized in society.

Finally, Tinney told his close friend, "If you don't want the funding you can set up a scholarship," and use it in other ways to help people.

That's when Rankins gave a big thumbs-up, while using Facetime.

Friends finally set up a GoFundMe that in a matter of hours had raised $5,010 of a $20,000 goal. The fundraising team is comprised of Tinney and Rankin friends Petisia Adger and Precious DuBose.

Rankins is recovering from critical injuries sustained in a fatal fire Wednesday that killed his friend, firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr.

It's been a tough week for Rankins, his injuries aside.

One of his fellow firefighters, William Jamar McMillian, 27, of Hamden, died May 6, unexpectedly, leaving behind a daughter, 5; then Rankins' friend, Torres, died in the same Valley Street fire where Rankins was injured. Torres and his pregnant wife also have a toddler.

Rankins was struggling with McMillian's death before the fire that killed Torres, said his best friend Maureen Gordon, who was on the phone with him talking about the loss — heavy on his mind — when at about 2 p.m. Rankins said, "I'll call you later," as there was a fire call. It was the call after that, at about 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, to Valley Street that turned tragic.

Rankins learned about Torres' death after awaking from an induced coma where he was intubated in the burn unit at Bridgeport Hospital.

Tinney said Rankins insisted from his hospital bed Thursday that he was going to attend McMillian's funeral service Friday — but he didn't get his way. They had just removed Rankins' breathing tube to find the good news that Rankins could breathe on his own, although he still has a lot of healing to do.

The New Haven Fireman's Benevolent Association said McMillian would be remembered as a "loyal, hard working, family man" and praised his work.

Gordon, who said she has adult children about Rankins' age, said the two met feeding the homeless in shelters about a decade ago and became fast friends who go to Yale games, skating, out to dinner, and helped the needy in all kinds of ways, including raising money for underprivileged children

"He silently does small things in the community — quietly, for underprivileged kids," Gordon said. "I always called him my old soul. He has extreme intuitiveness."

"He's even played Santa Claus," Gordon said, chuckling at a vision of Rankins' tall, thin frame.

When the news spread to the community Thursday that Rankins' condition was improving after a dire prognosis, they rejoiced, as some had thought he might not survive.

Tinney told the Register Wednesday that Rankins was clear-headed, answering questions correctly, was giving "marching orders" to his mom in his classic way, and expressing concern for fellow firefighters.

Tinney said Thursday that Rankins' has "a phenomenal soul," "a heart of gold," and has touched lives of people of all colors and ages.

Tinney said Friday that "Nuke said to tell everyone thank you for their prayers."


(c)2021 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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