On February 1, 2021, much of the Northeast was dealing with the effects of a classic nor'easter snowstorm. The snow and wind had begun in the very early morning and had been steadily increasing throughout the day. During the height of the storm, the Stamford Communications Center dispatched Truck 1, Engine 2, and Unit 4 to Cummings Park at the marina for a vehicle in the water.
The first Stamford Fire Unit to arrive on scene confirmed that a vehicle was in the water but could not determine if the driver was still in the vehicle. It was believed that the fire equipment boom could reach the sinking vehicle, and the apparatus would need to be positioned on soft snow in a grassy area adjacent to the water. Upon arrival at the waterline and closest point to the vehicle, firefighters made contact with the female occupant, who was able to squeeze through a small sliding rear cab window of the vehicle and step into the bed of the truck. She stated that a male friend was in the front passenger seat, but he wasn't in distress.
Once Truck 1 was placed in position, its crew was directed to immediately begin setting up on the snow-covered grounds. Firefighter Chad Titus was directed to don a cold-water suit and prepare to head out to the submerged vehicle. Firefighters Michael Rosero and John Colandro were also instructed to enter the water in cold-water suits to assist with the removal of the occupants. All three firefighters simultaneously entered the water and proceeded out to the vehicle.
As the three firefighters were entering the water, the bucket of Truck 1 was extended out to the sinking vehicle. To further complicate the rescue, strong offshore winds and the outgoing tide continued to slowly move the vehicle away from the shoreline. By this time, the female occupant, who was standing on the rear tailgate area, was provided with a life ring and moved into the bucket of Truck 1.
As she was safely placed into the bucket, rescue efforts continued to try to remove the male occupant, who was still in the cab of the truck and unable to squeeze through the very small rear window of the vehicle. The vehicle was now mostly submerged and continued to rapidly sink. The male passenger was now in the back seat of the vehicle and trying to breathe the only remaining air near the small open rear window. All three rescue swimmers worked feverishly to break the rear window, which was now the only window above the waterline. They continued to work as the vehicle quickly disappeared into the black and slushy 32-degree water.
As the vehicle disappeared below the waterline, Firefighter Rosero used a Halligan bar to repeatedly strike the rear window. The visibility, water pressure, and sinking vehicle made it impossible for him to know if he was having any success. At the same time, Firefighter Titus was working on the opposite side of the rear window to gain entry and also monitor his fellow firefighters as they worked nearby.
As the vehicle completely submerged into the harbor, Firefighter Calandra maintained physical contact with the male occupant through the small rear window. Despite extreme personal risk, he kept his grip on the man's arm and shoulder. As Firefighter Calandra clung to the man, Firefighter Rosero made an additional blind underwater strike at the rear truck bed window on the driver's side and was able to break the glass. As the glass shattered, Firefighter Calandra reached down, nearly submerging his head into the water, and made one last pull at the man who was trapped under the water. He was now able to pull the male passenger through the narrow opening and above the waterline. Firefighters Titus and Rosero were also able to assist with stabilizing the man as he came to the surface.
With the male occupant free from the vehicle, all three rescue swimmers guided him to the bucket of the tower ladder. The bucket was then lowered into the icy water, and the rescue swimmers placed him onto its lip. Once on shore, both victims were transferred to awaiting Stamford Emergency Medical Services paramedics, and they were treated for their injuries and exposure to the frigid water.
The actions of all the Stamford Fire personnel in support of this rescue were instrumental in its success. Firefighters Calandra, Rosero, and Titus demonstrated great bravery and dedication to duty as they risked their lives entering the freezing water to complete the rescue.