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Firefighter reunited with EMT who saved him 30 years ago

EMT Melvin Reed helped save an 18-year-old lifeguard, who later became a firefighter, when a roof collapsed over a preschool swimming class

By Laura Onyeneho
Boston Herald

BOSTON — A Scituate Lieutenant Firefighter who survived a roof collapse incident at the West Roxbury YMCA 30 years ago, reunites with the hero who saved his life on Friday at the Boston EMS Headquarters.

Lt. David Bortolotto of the Scituate Fire Department sustained severe head injures when a section of roof over the YMCA swimming pool collapsed over a preschool swimming class. Seven children were injured. Bortolotto, was an 18-year-old lifeguard at the time. Still conscious, he fought his way to get the children in the water to safety.

“The roof was a slab of concrete. The concrete was about 3 feet thick and the slabs were 18 feet long, said Bortolotto. The first piece that fell, I grabbed a small boy that was standing on the edge and I crouched over which is where I got hit, so it bounced off of my head and hit his arm.”

He later collapsed and recalled being scalped to the point where he saw his hair on his shoulders and lost a third of his blood. That was when Boston EMT Melvin Reed received a call of the emergency and was quickly dispatched to the location. “I couldn’t leave his side, I had to treat him. I didn’t want to paralyze him, so I had to stabilize him, said Reed. “I along with the help of my partner lifted him up and took him on to the stretcher and sent Dave straight to the hospital.”

It was Reed’s kindness and an immediate response in Bortolotto’s time of need that ultimately convinced him to change his career goals from studying to be an engineer to serving in the medical field. Three months after his recovery, Bortolotto decided to reach out to Reed for ride alongs to get a feel for what it was like as an EMT.

Bortolotto lost contact with Reed over the years. With the help of the Emergency Medical Service, he hoped to use the opportunity to reconnect with Reed to thank him for saving his life and changing the trajectory of his professional career. Bortolotto shared the experience along with his wife Roberta Bortolotto and three children.

“He looked up at Mel and was laying there… and Mel said ‘I got you,” said Mrs. Bortolotto. “Dave said for the rest of his life that’s what he wanted to say to people when they looked up they felt safe.”

Both men hugged each other and exchanged jokes. Reed had no idea if he would have ever seen Bortolotto again. He says he very honored to have inspired him to go into the same field.

“To save this young man and to see his lovely family, I see he has done really well, it’s a really good feeling. I feel very honored about that.”


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