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Off the Streets and into the Fire

Off the Streets and into the Fire
By Pete Levine ·
Off the Streets and into the Fire
Jay Richards (Member provided photo)

Jay Richards, an assistant supervisor with Boston’s parking enforcement division, is hard-wired to having his finger on the pulse of his community. As a native Bostonian who traces his roots in the city back some 385 years – to its very founding – Boston’s residents aren’t just random strangers to Richards, they’re like members of his extended family.

After 19 years working for the City of Boston’s Department of Transportation, Richards, a member of AFSCME Local 804 (Council 93), knows that on any given day, whether he’s investigating an abandoned car or working to get illegally parked vehicles out of tow zones, what happens to Boston happens to him. 

On August 3, as he was asking residents of the North End neighborhood to move their cars for the St. Agrippina di Mineo feast taking place later in the day, someone signaled to him that there was a fire at a condominium down the street. Richards sprang into action.

“My initial thought was ‘What’s the address?’” Richards recalls. He knew that would be the first thing he’d need to have to get emergency services to the right place.

But Richards couldn’t find the address of the large condominium building adjacent to Boston Harbor. All he could see was the plume of smoke rising from its roof. He didn’t hesitate or wait for help, though. He rushed into the lobby and began knocking on doors, alerting residents to the fire.

Inside, he was joined by Boston Harbor firefighters who’d also rushed from their post nearby. With the elevators turned off because of the fire, the group of impromptu heroes began climbing one steep flight of stairs after another, searching for the remaining residents.

Richards finally arrived at a 6th floor unit.

“Two home care workers were still inside,” Richards recalls. “They led us to a loft where there was another woman.”

That third woman, Richards explains, was disabled and, making the situation even more challenging, was bedridden.

“Someone had opened a door to a balcony, and I could smell the fire was close,” Richard says.

With little time to spare, Richards took charge as the homecare workers tried to assemble stabilizing poles to the disabled woman’s wheelchair.

“I said ‘We don’t have time. We gotta get her out of here now,’” Richards says. 

So, he, along with the Harbor firefighters, quickly secured the woman onto the base of her chair and carried her down six flights of stairs.

By the time Richards made it safely to the lobby, he was having chest pain. Still, the well-being of the woman he rescued was foremost on his mind.

“I asked the EMTs to check on her,” Richards recalls, but instead, they took his vitals and decided he should spend the night at Massachusetts General Hospital.

His heroism earned him kudos from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who called him a hero on Twitter and Facebook.

Richards was released at 1:30 the following afternoon with a clean bill of health. By 2:00 p.m., he’d reported for his shift. With an upcoming family vacation to Hershey Park on the docket (Richards has six children, ranging in age from 6 to 24), he didn’t want to miss any more work. 

Never Quit Service Awards

Do you know a public service worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty? Nominate them here for the AFSCME Never Quit Service Award.

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