Easthampton fire chief, lawmakers honor resident who saved neighbor from burning building

  • Paul Galotti, left, was recognized for his lifesaving efforts at a ceremony held at Easthampton Fire Department on Tuesday, July 5. Fire Chief Christopher Norris, right, awarded Galotti the Easthampton Fire Department Medal of Honor for his bravery in rescuing his neighbor David Martinez, center, from a burning building on Sunday, May 15.  —STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Paul Galotti, left, was recognized for his lifesaving efforts at a ceremony Tuesday at the Easthampton Fire Department.  STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Paul Galotti, left, was recognized for his lifesaving efforts at a ceremony held at Easthampton Fire Department on Tuesday, July 5. At the ceremony, Galotti was awarded the Easthampton Fire Department Medal of Honor for his bravery in rescuing his neighbor David Martinez, center, from a burning building on Sunday, May 15.  —STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Paul Galotti, left, was recognized for his lifesaving efforts at a ceremony held at Easthampton Fire Department on Tuesday, July 5. At the ceremony, Galotti was awarded the Easthampton Fire Department Medal of Honor for his bravery in rescuing his neighbor David Martinez, right, from a burning building on Sunday, May 15.  STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Paul Galotti, center right, was recognized for his lifesaving efforts at a ceremony held at Easthampton Fire Department on Tuesday, July 5. From left to right: Galotti’s mother, Janis Galotti, Fire Chief Christopher Norris, Galotti, and his father, John Galotti.   —STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer
Published: 7/6/2022 6:38:16 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Paul Galotti realized for certain that he did not have any interest in changing careers to become a firefighter in May after rescuing one of his neighbors from a burning building.

His lifesaving actions were recognized at a ceremony on Tuesday at the Easthampton Fire Department where Fire Chief Christopher Norris presented Galotti, 37, with the fire chief’s citation and the Easthampton Fire Department Medal of Honor.

“I always respected firefighters, but now I know I definitely never want to be a firefighter. That is some serious stuff that they do on a regular basis and they don’t get any medals,” he said, asking for a round of applause for his parents. “A thanks should go to my parents for raising me how to act in these situations. Because of them, there was no hesitation.”

The Medal of Honor commendation is something that fire departments can choose to issue, but to Norris’ knowledge it has never been issued in Easthampton. The presentation was also a first for Norris, who said Galotti qualified for the honor by putting his life above someone else’s under those extreme conditions.

“Given the heroic actions that were done on that day, we wanted to make sure he got recognized and recognized publicly for his actions that day,” he said.

During the presentation, Norris recalled Galotti’s actions the evening of Sunday, May 15.

While watching the end of the Celtics game, Galotti’s wife, Eliza, came charging over to him after saying she could hear popping noises and saw smoke coming from their neighbors’ home at 97-99 East St.

“Without considering the risk to his own life, he started making his way around the structure, yelling in the windows, yelling in the doors and at one point heard a voice in the basement structure,” Norris told a packed house at the ceremony.

At first, no one answered, but after Galotti returned a second time, he heard the voice of resident David Martinez from the front lower level of the building. Martinez indicated he was in a wheelchair and usually uses another walk-out entrance in the back, but it was covered in flames.

Galotti made an initial attempt to go into the apartment, but was overcome with smoke and retreated outside after 45 seconds.

He looked up and down the street to see if the firefighters had arrived but saw no sign of them.

Galotti then covered his nose and mouth with the collar of his T-shirt and walked back into the smoke-filled room.

“There was smoke pouring out and fire blowing out of a number of openings — it was older construction, with a high fuel load and a lot of ventilation openings, high hazards … and he went back in, found this individual yelling to him, picked him up out of the wheelchair and rescued him from this burning building,” said Norris.

“This all happened without the protection of gear afforded to firefighters, any protection of a breathing apparatus to breathe clear air, the protection of a hose line to safely put the fire out or find our way out if trapped. He did this without any of that to help this individual trapped inside.”

In the days that followed, Galotti also organized a GoFundMe fundraiser for the displaced families of the East Street building, generating more than $3,000.

Galotti’s mother, Janis Galotti, said that her son’s actions didn’t surprise her in the slightest.

“He knew who he was going to be when he was 7 years old. He knew he wanted to help people … So, no. I’m not surprised, because it’s Paul. This is who he is.”

Legislative citations

State Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, and state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, also attended the ceremony, recognizing Galotti with citations from the House and the Senate, respectively.

“I’m always proud to represent Easthampton in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as I was born and raised here, but boy, on a night like tonight, how can you not be proud of Easthampton and the community we have here,” said Carey. “You said you don’t want to be a firefighter, but you already are and you proved that in spades.”

Norris also indicated that he and Mayor Nicole LaChapelle had submitted Galotti’s name for the Madeline Amy Sweeney Award. Recipients of the award, which is overseen by the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, must demonstrate exceptional bravery, without regard for personal safety, in an effort to save the life of another or others in actual imminent danger.

The award is named after the late Amy Sweeney, who lived in Acton and was a flight attendant for American Airlines. On Sept. 11, 2001, Sweeney was working on American Airlines Flight 11, the first airplane that was hijacked and flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Before the plane struck the tower, she contacted the airline’s ground services to notify them of the hijackers and their fatal actions.

Promotions

In addition to recognizing Galotti, the event was also held to recognize recent promotions at the department, which now has 32 full-time employees.

Tyler Colby and Nathan Keegan Cowan were sworn in as new firefighters to the department by LaChapelle. Both new employees have taken the written statewide civil service exam, medical exams, physical ability testing, psychological exams and numerous interviews to be considered as full-time firefighters, said Norris. They are both finishing up paramedic training at Greenfield Community College.

Orientation training with Easthampton Fire will take roughly three weeks to complete. Their training will be finalized at the Massachusetts Fire Academy in Springfield to finalize their training.

Jason Dunham, who joined the department as a call firefighter in 1995 and was hired as a full-time firefighter in 1999, was promoted to captain at the department.

Kevin Benson, who joined the department in 2000, was promoted to deputy chief and will oversee the day-to-day operations at Easthampton Fire.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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