By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer
NAUGATUCK — A Prospect firefighter, and former chief, sprang into action Sunday afternoon and pulled a man from a burning car at Grove Cemetery, Naugatuck fire officials said.
Jay Kolodziej, a firefighter and safety officer with the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department, was at Grove Cemetery on Cross Street at about 12 p.m. when he noticed smoke on the other side of the cemetery, according to Naugatuck fire officials. Kolodziej was visiting the cemetery at the time, according to Prospect Fire Chief William Lauber.
When Kolodziej investigated the source of the smoke, he found a 2007 Chevrolet Impala on fire in a small patch of woods in the cemetery with a man unconscious inside, fire officials said. Kolodziej pulled the man from the car and used a fire department radio that he had with him to report the blaze to his fellow responders.
Firefighters responded at about 12:30 p.m. and had the car fire under control in about 30 minutes, Deputy Fire Marshal Ned Dalton said. It took about another 30 minutes to put out a brush fire around the car. He said the fire melted the car’s gas tank and gas dripping out the tank kept re-igniting the flames.
Kolodziej stayed with the man, a 44-year-old Naugatuck resident, until a Naugatuck ambulance arrived. The man was taken to a hospital with injuries that weren’t life threatening, fire officials said.
Officials are investigating how the car wound up there and what sparked the flames, Dalton said. Dalton said he doesn’t know whether the man would’ve made it out of harm’s way if Kolodziej wasn’t at the cemetery that day.
Naugatuck Fire Department credited Kolodziej for saving the man’s life in a post on the department’s Facebook page.
Kolodziej could not be reached for comment, but Lauber said that all Kolodziej would have to say is: if the shoe was on the other foot, Kolodziej would hope the occupant of the car would do the same for him.
“He does really deserve all the kudos in the world,” Lauber said.
Kolodziej joined the volunteer department in January 2002 as a firefighter. He has served in several roles over the years, including as chief from 2011 to 2016.
Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield, who commands the volunteer department during the day, described Kolodziej as a humble person but an aggressive firefighter. He said Kolodziej made the department proud Sunday.
“It makes me feel good that a Prospect firefighter showed off his training and makes all members of the fire department and the town of Prospect proud and honored,” Chatfield said.