CROTON FALLS, N.Y. - Bradley Smith’s mother Eleanor believed in two things: writing thank you notes and saving everything.
It’s because of her diligence that 67-year-old Bradley Smith, who grew up in Mahopac, was at the Croton Falls Fire Department earlier this year surrounded by the spouses and children of the men who saved his life some 62 years ago.
Twelve years after his mother’s death, Smith was going through her things when he discovered an account of the near-death experience he had when he was 6.
He had vague memories of a hospital stay, but a copy of a thank you note his mother had written the fire department and a short newspaper article about the incident filled in the details.
According to the newspaper, 6-year-old Smith’s throat began to swell, and he would have choked to death had it not been for six volunteers from the Croton Falls Fire Department.
Though the Smith family lived on Ernhofer Drive in Mahopac, their family doctor, Dr. Donald Richie, called for assistance from Croton Falls when Smith began having trouble breathing because he knew its Ladies Auxiliary had recently donated an inhalator to the department.
The firefighters—Capt. James Brown, Lt. Arthur Outhouse and firemen Ralph Outhouse, Jack DePauli, Peter DePauli and Tom DePauli—arrived and administered oxygen to Smith for 40 minutes. This, Dr. Richie told the newspaper, saved Smith’s life. He was then taken by a Mahopac Ambulance to Northern Westchester Hospital where he received a tracheotomy.
Moved by this information, Smith sat down and penned his own thank you note to the firefighters.
Cora Outhouse found it strange when the letter showed up earlier this year, addressed to her husband Arthur Outhouse, who had died in 2014.
“I opened up the post office box and pulled this out and I see this and thought, well someone doesn’t know Artie passed away and I don’t recognize the name,” Cora Outhouse said. “I stood a little stunned in the post office for quite a few minutes.”
The letter read: “I hope I have the correct Arthur Outhouse who served in the Croton Falls Volunteer Fire Department back in 1957. If it is, this is a long overdue thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
He wrote in the letter that his only memory from the “traumatic experience for a young boy of 6” is spending two weeks in the hospital after undergoing surgery.
“That boy of 6 is now 67 years and because of you, I am still here,” Smith wrote. “Once again, my thanks go out to you and the other firemen for being there that Saturday in the winter of 1957.”
It would be unusual now that the Croton Falls Fire Department would go to a call in Mahopac, but Drew Outhouse, the cousin of Arthur and Ralph Outhouse, said “back then, you went where you were asked to go.”
It was pure good luck for Smith that Richie was a neighbor of the Outhouse families and could call on them to respond.
“He called the fire department to go because he knew they had this equipment,” Drew Outhouse said.
Neither the firemen who saved Smith’s life or Richie are alive today, Drew Outhouse said, and Smith’s letter was the first time the families learned of the incident.
Smith said his mother hadn’t talked much about it and now he had no one to ask. His said a bad cold was his best guess for why his throat closed that day.
Smith currently lives in Connecticut after his family moved out of Mahopac in 1973. He went into the Air Force after college and has two children, two stepchildren and three grandchildren.
At the Croton Falls Fire Department, he showed off the letter his mother had written to the fire department; she had a copy, Smith explained, because she rewrote it for her own records before sending.
“Maynard and I want to express our sincere thanks to the firemen who came to our home on Saturday, Jan. 11, and administered oxygen to our son, Bradley,” Eleanor Smith wrote. “It was their prompt and efficient action that saved Bradley’s life.
“It was a terrifying experience for us all but with God’s help and the help of our skilled doctors and surgeon we are happy to report that Bradley came home from the hospital on Tuesday, Jan. 21,” she continued. “No words can ever express the deep gratitude and appreciation.”
Drew Outhouse presented the Croton Falls Fire Department with a framed copy of Bradley Smith’s letter and the newspaper article.
Richie’s daughter, Sue Richie Moga, attended the presentation. Nearly everyone in the room had been treated by her dad, who she said made himself available night and day for any of his patients. She also praised the fire department.
“You guys have been here for the people of Croton Falls for generations and you know in your head that you’ve done something good, but when you see what Bradley wrote and start reminiscing and start talking, it really does tug at your heart,” Moga said. “How many generations now are going to be moving into the future because of what you guys did?”
My dad was a very humble person, but he would have been tickled pink,” Moga said of the Smith’s letter.
Cora Outhouse said Arthur would have been happy to meet Smith, but also did not like to be the center of attention.
“It was their job,” Cora Outhouse said. “The fire department was probably his first love, and then I came along, but even then, the fire department would take preference.”
He served for 60 years, active until the end, she said. Arthur and his brother Ralph would hear the siren and race from their homes, competing to be first to the department.
“It’s so nice to be here in person and thank everyone for saving my life,” Bradley Smith said. “This is wonderful.”