SOMERS, N.Y. - On a bone-numbingly cold day last month, State Police Trooper Christopher Spallone was navigating the icy waters of Amawalk Reservoir, his arms laden with a wet, exhausted Labrador retriever, when he abruptly plunged into “big trouble,” Somers Police Chief Michael Driscoll recalled at a Town Board meeting earlier this month.
But, quick reactions by Somers Police Officer Curtis Dustin and volunteer fireman Michael Cyrulik pulled the dog’s rescuer to safety and earned public recognition for all three men at a town hall Police Award Night.
Presiding over the ceremony, Driscoll presented nine public-service citations to eight of Somers’ first-responders. The awards celebrate the courage, quick-thinking and close cooperation manifested up and down a proud roster of town and state policemen, volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, acting in concert to keep the public safe.
“These people work together in situations, often under a lot of pressure, and they get the job done,” the chief said as he described their individual and collective exploits.
Other Somers emergency-response personnel cited at the March 10 meeting were EMT Douglas Crockatt, Fire Commissioner John Chrysogelos, Police Officer Paul Walker and Police Officer Patrick Porteus, for reviving a woman who had stopped breathing; Police Officer Craig Siegel, for his dogged, off-duty pursuit of an out-of-control drunk driver; and Porteus, his second award, for getting three drunk drivers off the road in a year’s time.
Crucial teamwork was on display this past holiday season, when a 52-year-old Purdys woman was stricken, unable to breathe. Fortunately, John Chrysogelos, one of five elected commissioners who govern the Somers Fire District, and Douglas Crockatt, an EMT, live nearby. Alerted by neighbors to the woman’s distress, they responded at once and began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
Having raced to the scene from their homes, however, they lacked a defibrillator, the portable device that applies an electric current to restore normal cardiac rhythm. But the responding town police officers, Paul Walker and Patrick Porteus, had that lifesaving gear.
“My guys carried a defibrillator in their car and gave it to them,” the police chief told his audience. “They shocked the person, and the person lived. She began to breathe on her own at that time.”
The woman, who asked not to be identified, was treated at Putnam Hospital Center. Later released, she continues to do well, the chief said.
In November, off-duty Somers Police Officer Craig Siegel and his wife, Roseanne, were in their car, headed north on the Taconic State Parkway, when he saw a car “driving in a very erratic manner, unable to maintain its lanes,” Driscoll said. Sensing the potential danger this driver posed, Siegel called 911, then followed the other car off the parkway and onto Route 6.
The other driver—clearly, in Driscoll’s words, “pretty well ossified”—narrowly dodged a couple of head-on collisions before Siegel, with help from another Somers officer and the state police, collared the driver, arresting him near the Valero gas station in Baldwin Place.
P.O. Porteus, for his part, would not stop with arresting a single drunk driver. Instead, he snagged three in a year’s time, the last on Nov. 18, 2015, and charged them with driving while intoxicated.
“We have a policy in our department that an officer who makes three DWI arrests in one year receives recognition,” Driscoll said. “Thank you very much,” he told Porteus. “You probably saved a lot of lives.”
On Feb. 13, single-digit temperatures had covered Amawalk Reservoir behind John F. Kennedy Catholic High School with a deceptive crust of ice. For a gaggle of geese, perhaps 60 feet from shore, it was thick enough to let them frolic; for Sheldon, a robust yellow Labrador retriever, it proved to be not nearly thick enough.
Out for a brisk Saturday afternoon walk with his owner, Sheldon suddenly bolted onto the ice, his sights apparently set on the geese. That’s when the frozen surface buckled under his weight, plunging the helpless dog into ice water.
“That day was a freezing cold day, about 2 degrees, if you remember that cold spell we had a while ago,” Driscoll recalled.
Still, Sheldon’s owner gamely tried for the rescue before falling victim himself to Amawalk’s thin ice. Abruptly bobbing in frigid water, hypothermia a looming possibility, he retreated to the warmth of his car. Meanwhile, State Trooper Christopher Spallone, Somers Police Officer Curtis Dustin and Somers volunteer Fireman Michael Cyrulik, alerted to the emergency, arrived separately and saw the same thing: “The dog was in the water,” Driscoll related, “40 feet out, trying to get up on the ice.”
But his struggle to escape the reservoir’s icy grip had taken a toll. Sheldon was too weak to climb out, Spallone decided. He found a discarded plank—not much but enough to fashion a cold-weather surfboard. Lying on the board, tethered to a rope manned by Dustin and Cyrulik, he started propelling himself across the ice to the struggling dog.
But that crust, too thin to support a dog’s weight, quickly gave way under Spallone, dropping the trooper into the freezing water. Continuing anyway, he reached the shivering dog, scooped him into his arms and began the return journey.
Spallone was almost to shore when the rope reeling him in broke. While Sheldon swam the remaining 20 feet or so, Spallone—bone-weary, battling hypothermia and weighed down by his water-soaked uniform—struggled, in “big trouble,” as Driscoll noted.
“So, they went in,” he said, fireman and police officer wading into the water. “They got the trooper out.” Spallone was later treated for hypothermia at Northern Westchester Hospital Medical Center. A veterinarian pronounced Sheldon OK.
Driscoll hailed the work of the night’s honorees.
“This town is very lucky to have people like this,” he said. “We’ll all continue to work together to make this a better town. And when you really need us, we’ll be there.”