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Easton mourns fallen volunteer firefighter

The flag flies at half-staff and purple-bunting drapes the bays at the Easton Fire Department in honor of a firefighter who died in Hurricane Sandy.

The flag flies at half-staff and purple-bunting drapes the bays at the Easton Fire Department in honor of a firefighter who died in Hurricane Sandy. —Nancy Doniger photo

Purple bunting draped over the bays at the Easton Fire Department, the flag flying at half-staff and somber faces of the firefighters say it all.

The Fire Department, Emergency Medical Service, Police Department and the entire Easton community are mourning the loss of one of their own to Hurricane Sandy as it pounded Easton and a wide swath of the East Coast Monday night.

Sources identified the fallen firefighter as Lt. Russell Neary, brother of Fire Marshal Peter Neary. The two men come from a family that has long been active in Easton government and civic affairs.

A storm surge that some say might have been a microburst struck and knocked a tree limb on top of a volunteer firefighter, fatally injuring him, as he and two paid firefighters attempted to remove a log that had fallen on Judd Road as they returned from a fire call around 7:30 p.m. A tree and braches landed on top of the fire truck, trapping it beneath.

The two paid firefighters were not injured and called the EMS, which took the fallen firefighter to St. Vincent’s Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Chief Jim Girardi’s voice choked up as he spoke of his brave “brother” firefighter and the circumstances that led to his tragic death.

He said he was not at liberty to release the name at the family’s request as of Tuesday morning, but he said the deceased volunteer had worked at the Easton fire house for 13 of Mr. Girardi’s 15-year tenure there, and he described him as a “great man and natural father, devoted to his family” who would be sorely missed.

“He was a hard worker and would do anything for anybody,” Chief Girardi said. “He was president of the Fire Company and a volunteer EMT.”

Governor Dannel Malloy paid his respects to the fallen firefighter and to the Easton Fire Department in a Tuesday morning visit, part of his state disaster tour.

A mutual aid team from Hartford and area fire departments provided coverage for Easton firefighters as they dealt with the tragedy and the devastating storm Monday night that knocked out power to 100% of the town.

“It’s been difficult,” said Carolyn Kearney, chief of the Easton Emergency Medical Center. Service members are close and regard each other as family, and the loss as deep as losing a family member. “He will be sadly missed here.”

Fortunately, the service had no other calls Monday night, in part perhaps because residents had no power, said Ms. Kearney.

A Trumbull reconstruction team was at the scene of the fatality Tuesday, removing tree limbs branch by branch, to understand exactly how they had fallen, in order to assess the damage.

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