After 25 years, Shelton man is still touching lives with Stamford fire dept.

Photo of Brian Gioiele

John Searles walked into his interview at the Stamford Fire Department 25 years ago with hope in mind — making a difference in people’s lives.

More than two decades later, the longtime Shelton resident remains satisfied that he made the right choice, especially after a month in which he was instrumental in rescuing a woman pinned under a commuter bus. Then, just a few days later, Searles received a promotion to captain.

“At the end of the day, what we do means something,” said Searles.

Last month, while still a lieutenant, Searles was in charge of keeping the incident “scene safe” after a woman was hit by a Connecticut transit bus at the intersection of Broad and Atlantic streets.

The rescue effort also included a technical rescue response, including two engine companies, a ladder company, and Rescue Co. 1. In addition, Stamford police and Stamford EMS sent multiple units to the scene.

Firefighters arrived within two minutes, according to Deputy Chief Matt Palmer. The woman, who was conscious, alert and able to speak with firefighters, was trapped under the front axle of the bus, Palmer said.

Firefighters immediately stabilized the bus, lifted it using high-pressure air bags and helped the woman to safety, Palmer said.

Searles said he watched as his fellow firefighters were working to free the woman and noticed that no one was comforting her because they were focused on her physical safety. He then slid under the bus to focus on keeping her calm by explaining exactly what was going on, and asking her about her injuries.

“I was under there with her,” he said. “I remember asking ‘Besides being under a bus, is everything OK?’ I knew she was anxious, so I just kept telling her not to worry.”

While the tension made the situation seem to drag on, Searles said the woman was free and with medical responders within about 10 minutes.

“It felt great to help her,” he said. “I looked at her as one of my daughters and wanted to keep her safe.”

Searles also deflected attention for his role in the rescue.

“I really didn’t do much. Everybody did something. We were all part of the puzzle,” he said. “And once we got her out, we’re standing in the middle of downtown, middle of the afternoon with so many people around. They all started to cheer for us. It was a great feeling.”

Searles grew up in Stamford, the son of a Stamford firefighter. His brother was a Stamford police officer.

“I’ll never forget coming in for my interview 25 years ago. I was asked why I wanted to do this,” Searles said about his choice to become a firefighter. “I had been with the phone company, and it was the same thing all the time, and at the end of the day you go home.”

He said as he waited to enter that interview, he overheard some firefighters talk about how they aided a young boy who had been hit by a car while riding his bicycle. Searles said he thought that was a wonderful way to spend a workday.

In the years since, Searles said he has collected countless memories — from helping deliver a baby to teaming with his fellow crew members in saving nine people, many of them children, from a Henry Street house fire 20 years ago.

“That means something,” Searles said. “You may never speak to that person you help again, but you will always remember that life you touched.”