American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 honored Steeve Parent as 2020 West Hartford Firefighter of the Year.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Fire Department Apparatus Operator Steeve Parent was honored Feb. 10, 2021 as the American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 2020 Firefighter of the Year, and although the ceremony involved a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was actions Parent took without delay that were credited for saving a man’s life.
Battalion Chief Jarrad Smith informed a group who gathered at Station No. 2 – kept small due to the pandemic and including just immediate family, department leadership, and a few town officials – that department members choose one of their own to receive the Post 96 award.
“Past award recipients include department members who have rescued civilians in the course of duty, those who have performed highly meritorious service to the department, and those who have given back to the community in large and meaningful ways,” Smith said.
“But a sentinel act alone is not enough to have this honor conferred. Nominees must also have a track record of embodying the core values that firefighters look for in their peers – dedication, pride, professionalism, and above all else, the courage to place oneself in harm’s way for a member of the public,” Smith said.
What Parent did in April 2019 demonstrated courage, leadership, and selflessness,” Smith said, as he recounted the story of Parent’s actions when he came across a pick-up truck that had just overturned and was in flames at the side of the road, on I-395 just north of the intersection with the Massachusetts Turnpike.
“Steeve was off-duty, without protective equipment, traveling with his [now] wife on vacation when he witnessed a major motor vehicle accident and subsequently rescued a man from a burning vehicle that had crashed off the Massachusetts Turnpike,” Smith said.
“The man was unconscious and was not breathing when Steeve arrived at the overturned car. He quickly realized the man was only moments from cardiac arrest and subsequent death. Through quick and selfless action, Steeve removed the man from the passenger compartment of the vehicle before it was consumed by fire,” said Smith.
“Displaying great impromptu leadership, Steeve rallied a small group of bystanders to assist in caring for the man’s medical needs until emergency services arrived. When Steeve handed the victim off to responders several minutes later, the previously unconscious man who had not been breathing had his eyes open and was looking around at the chaos.”
Since then, Parent, who joined the West Hartford Fire Department in 2015 as one of the first to hold the dual designation of firefighter/paramedic and has been a field training officer training new firefighter/paramedics, has been promoted to the job of apparatus operator, which Smith said is “one of the most technically demanding positions responsible for the safe and effective operation of the department’s fleet of firefighting apparatus.”
Parent is also an active member and serves on the executive board of Local 1241.
Parent’s wife, Cara – at the time his fiancé – was riding in the car with him when they came upon the crash scene. An RN, she was supportive of his efforts.
“We are certainly in unusual times,” Chief Greg Priest said, noting that the celebration of the 2020 Firefighter of the Year was taking place in 2021. He thanked the Legion for their patience and persistence as all worked to figure out a way to hold the celebration safely.
Priest said choosing a firefighter to honor is a difficult task.
“The nature of this business is that there are many opportunities for heroism. On a daily basis our folks are exposed to those situations,” Priest said. In most cases incidents are approached as a team, by a workforce that by nature is “hard to impress.” There’s an expectation that they are going to take action, and it’s difficult to think about awards for that action.
“We have a lot of outstanding firefighters,” Priest said, but what separated Parent in this case was how he took action when there was no expectation.
“When faced with great personal risk and given the opportunity to save another one’s life, with no protective equipment, he moved into action,” Priest said. “Steeve was faced with a situation where he could have chosen not to act, to not be a firefighter and to stay safely away as a private citizen. It would have been easy … but we know this wasn’t the case.”
Parent “showed his true colors,” Priest said. “Steeve, I’m impressed, I’m very impressed. … You certainly faced a once-in-a-lifetime situation and your individual character was proven. You demonstrated bravery and a willingness to face great personal danger to save others. … Without question, your selfless actions saved another person’s life.”
“For its members, the American Legion is an opportunity for continuation of that service commitment previously made when we joined one of the armed forces,” Post 96 Commander Patrick Harrell said. “Service is also the key ingredient in the organizations of our first responders – the firefighters, the police and safety units, and the medical assistance teams. This is why we connect, recognize, and honor them,” he said.
“But there’s a slight difference,” said Harrell. While most veterans served for just a few years, “the first responders service the community as a career, and one that often calls for putting themselves at risk.”
As Parent approached the burning vehicle, others were just watching, but he ignored the flames. “When he did that he attested to the selfless drive to serve not just during the shift … but a 24/7 commitment,” Harrell said, noting the story that had been written about the incident in this publication.
Harrell said Parent’s achievement will be submitted to the state organization to be considered for statewide honor.
Mayor Shari Cantor thanked the fire department for their strong partnership and creative leadership throughout the pandemic and read aloud a proclamation honoring Parent, declaring Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021 as “Firefighter Steeve Parent Day.”
“It is said you are who you really are when no one is watching … and that is what Steeve did,” Cantor said. “He was empowered by his training and his skills but he was moved by his soul and his character, and that is what we are celebrating today.”
Parent expressed his thanks to the American Legion, town officials, and his family.
“The event that I am being honored for had a positive outcome, less because of any inherent skill or heroism on my part, but more so because of the people I am surrounded by every day – my brothers and sisters who taught me, demonstrated qualities that I strive to emulate, and who have led by example in every aspect of our profession.” Parent said that’s why he was able to act quickly and concisely.
“This award is a great honor and I will cherish it as a reminder of the privilege I have to serve amongst my brothers and sisters in the West Hartford Fire Department,” Parent said.
Smith thanked the American Legion – a group of people who “know a thing or two about selfless service and giving back to the community” – for supporting the West Hartford Firefighter of the Year award for more than two decades.
Parent’s name is now inscribed on a plaque that hangs at Station No. 2, along with previous Firefighter of the Year honorees.
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