Ashley Thompson - The Hants Journal
© SUBMITTED PHOTO
Matthew Dunfield, a native of Falmouth, and his niece, Arianna Dunfield-MacLeod, pose next to the World Firefighter Combat Challenge trophy Dunfield won as a member of the Moncton Fire Department’s team in 2009.
Firefighter Matthew Dunfield remembers the night he helped save a seven-year-old boy’s life as complete chaos.
The career firefighter, who started out as a junior in Windsor nearly 20 years ago, first spotted the boy, Jody Rossignol, inside a third-storey window of a burning apartment complex in Moncton shortly after midnight Feb. 22, 2013.When Dunfield arrived on the scene, bystanders were dragging an injured person, who had jumped from Jody’s floor, away from flames shooting out of the windows of the complex. Inside the building, Jody’s family members were screaming.
“They were going to jump and they had already thrown their sofa cushions down to break their fall,” Dunfield recalled.
Firefighters begged the family not to jump as Dunfield followed Lt. Ron Arsenault’s lead, and raced up a 75-foot ladder covered in a slippery layer of snow and ice to retrieve them. Aresnault assisted the family at the windowsill, while Dunfield carried each member down the ladder.
“All I was hoping was I didn’t drop them.”
He held Jody tight as they made their way to safety, rung by rung, promising him everything would be fine.
“He had big wide eyes and wasn’t saying a word.”
Meanwhile, some of Dunfield’s co-workers were inside the inferno, searching for an unconscious woman they would later be credited with saving.
The fire left about 30 people displaced, but all of the tenants survived.
Jody and his family paid a special visit to Dunfield’s crew, at the Botsford Street Fire Station, a few days after the fire.
“When they came by the station the following week to visit us he still wasn’t 100 per cent,” Dunfield recalled.
The firefighters gave the boy, who was hardly eating or sleeping, a remote-controlled fire truck and treated him to a pop and chocolate bar.
“We kind of made him part of the crew,” said Dunfield, who was the recipient of several thank you hugs and kisses from Jody’s grateful grandma during the family’s visit to the fire station.
Dunfield, who works 24 hours on, 72 off, says the enormity of what he is doing in the line of duty does notdawn on him until the situation is resolved.
“It’s when you’re finished your shift and the fire is out and you’re heading home to your family,” he said. “It kind of floors you.”
The Falmouth native also knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in as firefighters battle a blaze. As a child, he stood outside one frigid winter morning in 1989, watching as the Windsor Fire Department tried to extinguish flames consuming his family’s service station, which once stood where the Circle-K Irving in Falmouth is now.
“I marvelled at how well … the department worked as a team through the cold weather,” he said. “They did all they could for my family.”
That experience, coupled with his admiration for the late fire chief Fred Fox, fuelled his desire to fight fires for a living. He joined the Windsor Fire Department at 16, and spent nine and a half years serving his local community.
His father, Jeff Dunfield, the former owner of Jeff’s Irving, says there was no holding his son back once he was old enough to enrol in the junior firefighter program.
“He joined the Windsor Fire Department when he was allowed to walk in the door,” he said.
“That was his life. All his best buddies were there.”
He admits he worries about his son from time to time, but says he knows firefighters have their work down to a science.
“He’s fortunate that he does something he loves and lives for, so it makes what he does natural for him. He enjoys the work.”
Since his days of fighting fires in Hants County, Dunfield has been named one of the top firefighters in Canada byReader’s Digest,plus competed in — and won — the World Firefighter Combat Challenge in Las Vegas along with four of his colleagues at the Moncton Fire Department in 2009.
He says the training he received in Windsor has, without question, helped him succeed in his dream job.
“I think it prepared me very well because Windsor, as well as some of the other departments through the Annapolis Valley, are some of the foremost fire departments in the county.”