Emily Ingersoll — a “little peanut” of a girl, according to her mother, Jennifer — is Stratford’s newest and littlest hero.
Emily, who turned 5 in September, has a big yellow dog named Jack, a cat called Winnie as in Winnie-the-Pooh, and a little sister Allison, 4.
They used to live at 518 Woodlawn Avenue. Now, the whole family lives with “Grandma and Popo” a few miles away.
It’s because of Emily, and her insistence in applying a lesson she learned in kindergarten at Chapel Street Elementary School, that they’re alive.
On Oct. 2, Lt. Mark Krassner and his crew from Company 4 (the Oronoque Fire House) drove a fire truck to the school to teach 130 children the basics of fire prevention and safety.
“It’s a program that the Stratford Fire Department has been doing in the schools for the past six years,” said Krassner.
Firefighters spent the day teaching “stop, drop and roll,” the importance of testing smoke detectors, and how to escape a fire. The children listened and climbed all over Engine 4.
“I remember Emily,” Krassner said. “I boosted her up on the bumper. She was shy, very quiet, but you could tell she was interested and taking-in everything.”
When Emily arrived home from school that day, she was pensive. It wasn’t until her father, Robert, was tucking her into bed and asked her as he always did, “What did you learn in school today, Emily?” that the words began to tumble out. She told him about the firemen, the big red truck and the smoke detectors.
“Daddy, do we have smoke detectors?” she asked.
“We do,” he said.
“We need to test them. The firemen said so,” Emily said.
“We’ll do it in the morning,” he said. “It’s time to go to sleep.”
“No, Daddy, now. Please?” she pleaded. “We have to.”
Knowing it was a losing battle against such big green eyes, Robert scooped up his daughter and carried her into the hall. Holding her aloft so she could see, he pushed the test button on the smoke detector. Nothing. He tried again. Silence.
“I was surprised,” he said. “The one in our kitchen goes off practically every time we cook.”
He had new batteries in the house, and under Emily’s watchful eye, he replaced the old ones. Then, he tested the smoke detector several times to Emily’s satisfaction, and she went to sleep.
On the night of Oct. 29, with Winnie and Jack in tow, the family fled their burning home to the shrill wail of a working smoke detector.
The fire, according to Stratford Fire Marshall Tom Velky, started in the basement on a workbench, possibly from a hair dryer. While the family slept, it burned through the basement, eating its way upward through the floor of the kitchen and laundry room.
Flames began to follow the plumbing pipes inside the walls running up to the second floor, using the shaft like a chimney flue. That’s when the smoke detector outside Emily’s bedroom erupted, shrill and loud, in the darkness.
The Ingersolls were safely out on the sidewalk in their night clothes when Fire Companies 1 and 2 arrived with four engines and a ladder truck. The fire was steadily extinguished.
Then the unbelieving, but thankful to be alive, family went to stay with relatives.
It was some two weeks after the fire, and only by accident, that Velky, while talking to a skiing buddy who just happened to be a friend of the Ingersolls, learned of Emily’s role in her family’s escape, her determination to test the smoke alarms in the house, and the replacement of the batteries.
“Her persistence undoubtedly saved her family from probable, serious burn injury and possibly death,” said Velky. “She’s a hero.”
Last Wednesday, Principal Mary Ann Craig brought the kindergarten classes together for an awards assembly. It was a surprise for Emily and a celebration for doing the right thing. Her parents visited the school and gave their support as speeches were made, hand-held cameras flashed and TV cameras rolled.
Velky acted as master of ceremonies and introduced the presenters.
Deputy Chief Mike Hostetter pinned a medal from the Stratford Fire Department on Emily’s pink sweater. It read State of Connecticut Honorary Service. It was only the second such medal given to a non-member of the Stratford Fire Department since the inception of the honor.
Mayor James R. Miron shook Emily’s hand and presented her with a certificate. It read, “In recognition of your participation in the town’s fire prevention program, which kept your family safe.”
Assistant Fire Chief Ellen Murray, who serves on the board of directors for the Stratford Professional Firefighters Burn Foundation, presented Emily with a basket of gifts. Included were a teddy bear and a red firefighters helmet.
The crew from Oronoque Fire House, including firefighters Ron Christy, Jeff Buchanan and Germain Atkinson, offered congratulations. And when Krassner shook her hand, Emily said in a very small voice, “Thank you for teaching me.”
After the assembly, the press descended upon her with more questions and cameras. She withstood her first television interview as her proud mother watched and listened. She stood for pictures while chants of “Hooray for Emily” tried to make her smile.
It was all a bit overwhelming. By the end of the interviews and photos she had snuggled safely into her father’s arms and was headed for home with her parents, tired but content, basket in hand.
Emily won’t be Stratford’s last hero. There will be others, perhaps doing more daring deeds to save lives. But Emily might always be the town’s littlest hero.
Robert, Jeneffer & Emily Ingersoll Members of Chapel School Deputy Chief Mike Hostetter Fire Marshal Tom Velky Assistant Chief Ellen Murray Engine Four: Lt. Mark Krassner FF Ron Christy FF Jeff Buchanan FF Jermaine Atkinson