Heroic Mattituck fire chief receives a medal

When Mattituck Fire Chief Sam Bail raced around the corner from his home and pulled two elderly people from a burning house a year ago he certainly wasn’t expecting a medal for his efforts.

But a medal — the Suffolk County Vocational Education and Extension Board’s Medal of Valor — is exactly what he got.

“When I got there, he had helped a woman out of the house and had gone in to get her husband,” said 2nd Assistant Chief Vincent Tirelli, who nominated Mr. Bail for the award. “He did end up going into the hospital for smoke inhalation.”

The May 2010 fire on Peconic Bay Boulevard in Laurel started when a cigarette fell onto the chair an 89-year-old man was sitting in. The man was airlifted to Stony Brook University Medical Center with severe burns to his lower body, and later died of his injuries.

Mr. Bail and the victim’s wife were taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where both were treated for smoke inhalation and released.

“Couch cushions can be fairly toxic, and it has a very quick effect on you,” said Mr. Tirelli.

Mr. Bail received the Silver Medal of Valor and was a close runner up for the gold medal, the first-place award given out by the VEEB, said Mr. Tirelli.

The chief will receive the medal and a certificate of merit during the Suffolk County Volunteer Firemen’s Association’s fireman of the year awards ceremony at the Mastic Fire Department on Sept. 25.

Mr. Bail was modest about his efforts when contacted this week.

“This is developing a life of its own, and it’s all for doing my job,” he said.

“It was just around the corner from my house,” he continued. “I got the call and the police said there were people inside the house. I just did it. I went inside and she was putting out the flames. I directed her out and picked up the guy and dragged him to the door. By then, the second assistant chief was at the door and helped get him the rest of the way out.

“It’s nothing you wouldn’t have done. It’s nothing any one of us would not have done,” he added. “You go in and do it. That’s why we joined the fire department.

Mr. Tirelli, who had been attempting to keep the award a secret until Mr. Bail received a letter from the VEEB, said a county fire safety instructor spilled the beans to the chief before the announcement letter arrived.

Complementing the chief’s bravery was the solid firematic training he received, Mr. Tirelli added. That, he said, enabled Mr. Bail to act quickly and save the woman from further harm while greatly increasing her husband’s chance of survival.

“Normally, you go into automatic mode,” Mr. Tirelli said. “If somebody is in there, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to get him out. He went into automatic mode and did what he was trained to do. When you have to do it, it’s good to know you have the training.”

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