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Passers-by, Salem firefighter praised after fiery rescue

Union Leader Correspondent

March 01. 2018 9:58AM
Salem firefighter/ paramedic Michael Galipeau speaks to reporters Wednesday about his off-duty actions the previous afternoon when he and several passersby helped remove motorists from their vehicles after a three-car crash in Windham. (CHRIS GAROFOLO/Union Leader Correspondent)

SALEM — For seemingly no apparent reason, Salem firefighter and paramedic Michael Galipeau opted for a different commute to his Derry home after his shift on Tuesday.

That decision likely saved the life of at least one woman after Galipeau assisted, along with a handful of other passing motorists, following a fiery three-vehicle accident on Route 111 in Windham.

Galipeau, an eight-year veteran of the Salem Fire Department, said he was heading home from a day-shift at station No. 2 when he changed his regular route and decided to take Route 111. Shortly before 6 p.m. he saw several vehicles pulled over to the side of the road and one car fully engulfed in flames.

He immediately called dispatch to report the incident and ran toward the burning vehicle, attempting unsuccessfully with some other passersby to remove the driver. By using a knife handed to him by one of the passersby, he was able to cut off the driver’s seatbelt and pull her out of the window of the car.

“At that point, we were able to remove her to safety probably about 50 feet away,” he said. “Shortly thereafter several people made it be known that there was someone else in a truck that was in close proximity to the car that was on fire.”

Galipeau is the first to credit the other passers-by who stopped to help before emergency responders arrived on the scene.

“They are the true heroes,” he said. “Good teamwork, it all worked out … it would have been a different outcome if (they weren’t there.)”

Flames engulf one of the vehicles involved in Tuesday evening's multi-vehicle accident on Route 111 in Windham. (Steve Collins)

One bystander who pitched in was Steve Collins, a service manager at United Rentals. He helped Galipeau rescue motorists from vehicles. He remembers seeing the van on fire and checking the other vehicles for passengers with several other passers-by.

With so much negativity in the world, Collins said, it's good to see the work of good samaritans celebrated.

“Many thanks go to Mike Galipeau from Salem, N.H., Fire Department to recognize the other people involved along with him,” Collins said. “I think at this time the story has had plenty of news and attention, all positive and it's about time that the good news is passed along.”

Salem Fire Chief Paul Parisi said he is not surprised with Galipeau’s commitment to service.

“He’s a fantastic firefighter; a great person,” Parisi said. “Frankly, I think that’s inherent of firefighters. I think that 24/7, they are firefighters and it doesn’t matter if they’re in uniform or not. I don’t know a firefighter around who wouldn’t do just what Michael did. I’m very proud.”

The crash was severe, the fire doubled in size within minutes, Galipeau said. One of the vehicles was on fire while the other two sustained significant damage.

All three drivers of the vehicles, identified Wednesday as George Welch of Derry, Linda Desmond of Hampstead, and Linda Boucher, also of Hampstead, were transported to area hospitals with varying degrees of injury but are expected to survive, according to police.

Windham officers say alcohol and drugs do not appear to be a cause of the crash at this point.

The woman whose seatbelt was cut with a knife was not identified.

Galipeau was initially transported to Lawrence General Hospital for smoke inhalation, but he was discharged four hours later and returned home.

Investigators said most of the details of the accident remained unknown as of Wednesday.

“We know it was a head-on crash,” said Windham Fire Chief Thomas McPherson Jr. “We don’t know if one vehicle crossed over the median and hit the other vehicle coming on, or if the vehicle went to the opposite side of the median and went the wrong way.”

The Windham Police Department and the accident reconstruction team in Salem continue to investigate the incident.

Anyone with information regarding this accident is asked to contact Officer Matthew Courtois of the Windham Police Department at 434-5577.

Public Safety Salem Windham

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