LODD: Conn. firefighter dies battling house fire, Lt. in critical condition

New Haven Firefighter Richard "Rico" Torres Jr., 30, was killed in the blaze and Lt. Samod Rankins was seriously burned

Duty Death: Ricardo "Rico" Torres Jr. - [New Haven, Connecticut]

End of Service: 05/12/2021


Christine Dempsey
Hartford Courant

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — One firefighter died and a second was injured early Wednesday while battling a house fire in New Haven.

Officials identified the deceased firefighter as Ricardo “Rico” Torres Jr. The second firefighter, Lt. Samod Rankins, is in critical condition at the burn unit at Bridgeport Hospital.

Both were pulled, unconscious, from the second floor of a house at 190 Valley St., Fire Chief John Alston said. Two other firefighters were treated for injuries at a local hospital, he said.

Two civilians also were rescued, fire officials said.

“This is a very difficult time for our department,” Alston said. He said he hired Torres in July 2019.

“Since he was a child he wanted to be a firefighter,” the chief said. “I want him to be remembered for doing what he loved to do. And that he sacrificed his life to save someone else.”

Gov. Ned Lamont directed flags to half-staff in honor of Torres.

“Today’s tragedy is a heartbreaking reminder of the dangers that firefighters face each and every day when responding to emergencies,” he said, in a written statement. “Firefighter Torres is a hero, who dedicated his life to the safety of the people of New Haven. My thoughts are also with the firefighters who were injured while responding to this emergency, and I pray for their speedy recovery.”

Alston said at a noontime news conference flanked by department members that New Haven firefighters were “facing one of the worst days of their lives” and thanked surrounding towns for helping to cover the city’s firehouses.

“Today New Haven firefighters are mourning the loss of a brother firefighter who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” said Patrick Cannon, president of the New Haven firefighters union. “We also have another brave firefighter in critical condition. ... We ask the public to keep them in their prayers and thoughts.”

Mayor Justin Elicker said at the news conference he was at the hospital early Wednesday “and witnessed firsthand the compassion and leadership of the chief and his team, the camaraderie and support of the firefighters.” He said he was “deeply proud of our fire department and the support you give each other that you give each other during this incredible challenging time.”

The mayor said Torres’ mother at the hospital was sharing stories about him “in particular, how when he was a young boy he always wanted to be a firefighter.”

Torres “is a son, he’s a brother, he’s a husband, he’s a father. And he ran inside a building to save other people and lost his life. And his family lost him. And it’s a
reminder to us all about the sacrifice you and your families make ... to protect and support New Haven residents. This is a time when we as a community should reflect upon that sacrifice, be grateful for the work our public safety officers do on behalf of us.”

Elicker said of Rankins: “He is a fighter. ... I’m optimistic and hopeful and here to support his family in this difficult time.”

Rankins was hired in February 2018 and promoted to lieutenant in March.

Staff from the state medical examiner’s office, the state police Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit and the state’s attorney’s office are investigating the fire, Alston said.

The fire was reported about 12:45 a.m. When crews pulled up they encountered heavy fire, Alston said.

Two civilians, a tenant and the 84-year-old property owner, were rescued. One was taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation that was not considered life-threatening, he said. The other was treated at the scene.

Douglas Wardlaw, a New Haven fire investigator, said, “So although this was a tragedy, once again, the heroes rose above and beyond.”

Department leaders called for a second alarm, which brought a second team of firefighters and equipment to the scene. Not long after that, a firefighter in the burning house “reported being lost and disoriented,” Alston said.

“It turned out there were two of them on the second floor,” he said of the firefighters. “Both were found in an unconscious state and were removed.”

From Stamford to Tolland, fire departments around the state mourned New Haven’s loss, extending their condolences on social media. Tolland firefighters tweeted: “We are heartbroken at the news coming out of New Haven this morning. Know that you are all in our thoughts.”

Hartford Firefighters Local 760 said they have New Haven firefighters in their thoughts and prayers and also are praying for the speedy recovery of the hospitalized firefighter. Hartford lost a firefighter in October 2014 when firefighter Kevin Bell was unable to make it out of a second-floor room while while working to put out a house fire on Blue Hills Avenue.

Alston said he had received “many phone calls and emails and well wishes from all over the nation, from every walk of our industry.”

 

Today, our hearts and minds are heavy as a department. An early morning fire took the life of one of our firefighters ...

Posted by The Firebirds Society of the Greater New Haven, Inc. on Wednesday, May 12, 2021

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