2013 Ray Downey Courage & Valor Award

Each year, a firefighter is recognized for their valiant efforts with the Ray Downey Courage and Valor award. This year, the award was given at FDIC to Firefighter William O’Connell of the Stamford (Conn.) Fire & Rescue Department. The award was presented by FDNY Battalion Chiefs Joe and Chuck Downey, sons of Chief Ray Downey, who lost his life on 9/11.

The Incident
At 2330 HRS on July 22, 2012, firefighters from the Stamford Fire & Rescue Department (SFRD) were called to a capsized boat in Stamford Harbor with two individuals trapped inside the cabin of the vessel. With limited visibility and in 50 feet of water, two divers from the department’s dive rescue team entered the water to assess the situation and make contact with the trapped individuals. They entered the cabin through an 18″ opening. Firefighter O’Connell made contact with the victims, who had been in the water for 45 minutes and were showing signs of hypothermia.

Rescue Challenges & Tactics
Firefighter O’Connell made two attempts to rescue the female victim, but got stuck, and had to abort the attempt and swim to the top to discuss alternative rescue tactics. He then re-entered the cabin and was able to eventually pull out the male occupant safely. The female occupant was panicked at this point, screaming for help. O’Connell entered the cabin and noticed his heart rate was accelerated, indicating that the oxygen level was extremely limited, and time was running out. O’Connell then performed a challenging tactic by reaching into the water, grabbing the female victim by her ankles and pulling her up through the 18″ hatch.

Job Well Done
O’Connell went to the ER for a laceration to his hand. For his bravery, he has received many awards, including his department’s medal of honor. O’Connell is an 11-year veteran of the fire service, and became a full-time paid firefighter with the city of Stamford in 2002.

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