Family, friends remember life of lifesaver

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Paramedic Thomas Higgins, left, with his son Scott in 2003. –CONTRIBUTED
NAUGATUCK — Thomas Higgins, a longtime borough paramedic who saved lives in several high-profile incidents, died Tuesday of complications from cancer treatment. He was 62.

For about a decade, Higgins was one of four paramedics contracted from Campion Ambulance to respond to calls from the Naugatuck Ambulance headquarters on Rubber Avenue.

“He will be truly missed by a lot of people,” said his 27-year-old son Scott Higgins, who lived with his father on Spring Street.

Higgins risked his life to save Anthony Mariano, the construction worker critically injured when the Salem Bridge collapsed two years ago, said Capt. Richard Alfes of the Naugatuck Fire Department, who was at the scene. After the collapse, Mariano was lying on a precariously placed beam, Alfes said. Higgins crawled over to the injured man and prepared him for transport to the hospital, despite the fact that the beam’s support could have given way at any moment, killing them both, Alfes said.

Higgins also put himself in danger to help save Wayne Rae, a critically injured borough man who drove into a Field Street house last year, Alfes said. Before firefighters arrived at the scene to extricate Rae, Higgins got in through the back of the crumpled car to treat him, although the paramedic was not protected from sharp edges or a possible fire, Alfes said.

When Nora Mason of Park Avenue had a baby eight years ago in her driveway, Higgins arrived to warm up baby Benjamin, who was having trouble breathing in the 20-degree weather.

“He was a very, very good man, did a lot of good,” Alfes said. “There are a lot of people that are alive today because of that.”

During a triple bypass surgery last November, doctors noticed a growth in Higgins’s lungs and diagnosed him with small cell lung cancer weeks later, said Roberta O’Donnell, 45, a friend and former co-worker who lives in the borough. O’Donnell helped organize a February benefit for Higgins that attracted hundreds of people to the Prospect firehouse and raised about $10,000 for his medical costs.

After chemotherapy, Higgins was thought to be cancer-free, but two months ago he began to have trouble breathing and was taken to Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford for rehabilitation, his son said. He died of pulmonary fibrosis Tuesday night at the hospital.

As a paramedic, Higgins was good at teaching new trainees, said Larry Santoro, president of Naugatuck Ambulance. Employees were saddened to learn of his death, Santoro said.

“It is a family, so you kind of realize you lost one of your own,” Santoro said.

Higgins was raised in Torrington, where he graduated from Torrington High School and then from the first-ever class of Hartford Hospital’s paramedic program, Scott Higgins said.

Scott Higgins said his father was a “rock” of support who could always make his son laugh when he was upset. Higgins inspired Scott, a paramedic for American Medical Response in Hartford, to follow in his footsteps.

“A lot of people’s fathers teach them things when they’re growing up,” Scott Higgins said. “He taught me how to bike, how to hold a fishing pole, and how to save somebody’s life.”