Everett heroics don’t necessarily have to happen in Everett, and that’s just the story that unfolded in Lincoln, NH, last month when (Temp.) Fire Capt. Jim Collins and his high school classmate, Tracy Bolster, were in the same place at the same time and played key roles in saving the life of a Connecticut man who crashed his motorcycle and was trapped in a life-threatening situation.
“We did go to high school together at Everett High,” said Collins. “I didn’t know it right there at the time, given the situation, but when we were doing this, I think she mentioned it to me.”
Said Bolster, “I thought I recognized Jim and his wife, Jodi, when we started working together to save the man. I asked them where they were from and they said Boston. I said, ‘How about Everett?’ They looked at me really weird and I said that I think I went to high school with them. We laughed about it and it was so amazing. Growing up and living in Everett, I always see people that I went to high school with. My kids make fun of me for it. It’s like this long-standing joke. When we were walking away from the scene, I told my son, ‘Guess what?’ He said, ‘Oh, did you go to high school with that guy?’ I said, ‘Yes, in fact, I did.’ We got the biggest laugh out of it.”
All kidding and coincidences aside, the situation was serious and dire.
It was the strangest coincidence that two people from Everett were in the same place at the same time, hundreds of miles from the City, and were able to provide life-saving help to a man fighting for his life. For that, Mayor Carlo DeMaria held a ceremony on Tuesday morning at City Hall to highlight the efforts, noting that Everett people always seem to come through when help is needed.
“We’re from Everett – we always seem to step in when people need help the most,” said the mayor, himself being recognized nationally for marrying a couple on the beach in Cape Cod last month when their minister couldn’t make it at the last minute.
Collins was there with his wife, Jodi, and their children, Jack and Ava. Bolster was there with her children, and her sister-in-law, Melodie Rivera, of Quincy, who was also given a citation for her bravery on Tuesday.
The Collins family was just leaving after taking a hike around a lake, and Bolster was just arriving to hike around the lake.
“We had been hiking around the lake and were just pulling out of the parking lot and heard this noise,” said Collins. “I knew immediately it was bad. My brother was in front of me and he waved us down. The motorcyclist had not navigated the turn and was going about 60 mph without a helmet. The bike was on top of him – a Harley and it weighed probably 800 pounds. He was wedged between the guardrail, which was sharp…He was screaming for us to take it off. He was also getting burned because the bike was so hot. We tried but told him we couldn’t get it because we needed more people working together. It was amazing. We got enough people really quickly and were able to use a speed limit sign – which ironically said 25 mph – as a way to pry it up and lift it up. Then others removed him.”
Bolster arrived and immediately saw there was chaos. Leaving her kids safely behind, she and Rivera ran to the scene.
“We pulled in and saw chaos and I just ran over to help,” she said. “Jim was calling for a truck driver to help him and he wouldn’t. Jim was flailing his arms and trying to get anyone to stop. We just tried to do whatever we could to help.”
Rivera took over comforting the man, who was severely injured, actually holding his skull together (he had a cracked skull) and trying to comfort him and help him communicate with those trying to tend to him.
It was a long wait for paramedics after the rescue, so Collins and Bolster and others surveyed everyone in the parking lot to look for things to make splints for the man’s broken bones.
“Jim was running all thought he parking lot asking if anyone had any hockey sticks because we needed splints,” said Bolster. “Someone actually did and we started helping him.”
Once EMTs did arrive, the man was MedFlighted quickly to a hospital nearby. He apparently just went home this week to Connecticut, but had suffered a broken neck, a broken back, broken ribs, two broken legs and had a cracked skull with his head split open.
Fire Chief Tony Carli said he wasn’t surprised that Collins, Bolster and Rivera had jumped to action. He said firefighters often find themselves in these positions, and they usually find able helpers on scene.
“I am not surprised they saved him,” said the chief, as did a number of Everett firefighters at the ceremony Tuesday. “That’s happened before with members of our department. As firefighters, we’re never off-duty.”
Collins’s family have seen their dad as a firefighter all their lives, but never have they seen him jump into action like that.
“I’ve seen him at the TD Garden working at times,” said Jack Collins. “He’s serious and everything, but I’ve never seen him like that before. He just jumped into it and knew what to do. I had never seen my dad do something like that before.”
Collins, however, said he was more impressed with Bolster, Rivera and the other people who joined them to help. He said he sees these accidents routinely as a firefighter, so he’s impressed when regular people act with courage and have no training.
“The biggest story for me is that so many people that don’t do this every day were able to save this man and just needed a little direction,” he said. “It was all different walks of life and races and they were all working together…This is what we do every day as a firefighter. We’re not shocked to see it. For people who don’t see this, to come together and be so brave is what is amazing to me.”
Bolster said she was amazed at how calm Collins was, and was proud that an Everett firefighter and classmate was there to help.
“I don’t think we could have done it without Jim,” she said. “We might have gotten the bike off of him, but we wouldn’t have known what to do after that. He was so calm and wasn’t barking orders or anything…I told people he’s my fireman and we went to high school together.”
All three were presented with citations for their bravery and courage from the City, signed by Mayor DeMaria.