Some people never learn the impact they have on others’ lives.

Some are lucky and do.

Such is the case with Tom Savinelli, 28-year veteran of the fire service, who was surprised recently when a woman whose life he helped save 34 years ago posted a message on Facebook that she was looking for him and three other fire officials who rushed to her aid that day.

Savinelli, 66, of Waterville, was a young fire medic in the West Haven, Connecticut, fire department on June 16, 1984, when a call came in that an 18-month-old toddler had fallen into a pool and was not breathing.

He and a fire lieutenant named Edward, a medic named Timothy, and Paul, a paramedic, rushed to the scene where the lifeless child lay in her father’s arms. They initiated emergency life support measures, established an airway, got her breathing and rushed her to a hospital.

The toddler, named Katie, survived.

Tom Savinelli tells his tale on Thursday of meeting a woman he helped save as a toddler 34 years ago. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Recently, Katie, who still lives in Connecticut, posted a message on her Facebook page saying she was not the type to share a lot of personal information online and not many people knew about what had happened to her many years ago. At the time, her father had briefly let her out of his sight, and she somehow made it across the backyard and climbed up a 5-foot ladder and “drowned.”

When she was older, she learned about the incident but had no memory of it. Her parents are now gone, but while looking through her mother’s belongings, she found a newspaper clipping that listed the names of the fire officials who responded. In that story, the fire chief praised the men for their work, and later he issued them letters of commendation.

Katie decided to post a message on Facebook to try to find them. 

Savinelli, who moved to Maine some 19 years ago and co-owns Holy Cannoli bakery in downtown Waterville with his wife, Candace, recalled his cell phone going crazy one day as people he knows in Connecticut saw Katie’s post and called or texted him.

“I got in touch with her, and we went back and forth, trying to make an arrangement to meet,” he said.

It turns out he was planning to be in Connecticut anyway shortly thereafter, and while all four officials involved in her rescue were contacted, only Savinelli and fire medic Timothy could make it.

Savinelli, Timothy and his son, also Timothy, who ironically went to high school with Katie and is now also a firefighter, met with Katie.

They met at a local diner, and when Katie walked in, she hugged them all. It was a sweet reunion.

“We talked about the incident itself. That’s when I found out she was unconscious 12 hours,” Savinelli recalled. “It was just like old friends meeting and talking. She has two kids, a great job. We talked for two hours.”

Sometimes firefighters get to meet those they rescued 10 or 15 years before, he said, but it is very rare for it to be as long as 34 years — which made the reunion even more special.

“It was nice,” he said. “You always feel good when something goes right. I mean, how much ‘righter’ can you get?”

Which makes me ponder the real blessing in all of this: that Katie, whom I spoke to on the phone but preferred I not use her last name, is here among us all these years later.

Thanks, that is, to the quick response of Savinelli and his colleagues, who were trained and ready to act.

It also occurs to me that now is the time when people are opening swimming pools and heading to lakes, ponds and the ocean, and we must be ever-vigilant, particularly when children are near or in the water.

“It only takes a minute,” Savinelli warns.

He knows better than anyone that the outcome 34 years ago with Katie could have been very different.

He offers some words of advice:

“Watch your kids. This family was lucky. Real lucky.”

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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