The New Haven firefighter who was critically injured and hospitalized fighting a mid-May blaze that claimed the life of a fellow firefighter has donated $50,000 to a scholarship fund for individuals pursuing their EMT certification and careers in firefighting.
Lt. Samod Rankins created the “Ricardo Torres Jr. Scholarship” in honor of his friend.
“I would like to thank everyone for all their love, prayers and support over the last few weeks. Words are not enough to express my true gratitude,” Rankins said. “You brightened my darkest days and continue to help me fight each and every day. You have made a huge difference in my world and I pray a special blessing in return.”
Rankins said that he hopes the scholarship fund “will give residents a helping hand in pursuing their firefighter career paths.”
Applications for scholarships will open in Aug. 1. Applicants must be New Haven residents above the age of 18 with at least a high school diploma or GED. Applicants also will be required to write a one-page essay explaining why they want to become firefighters.
Prior to the accident, Rankins was known as a popular volunteer around his community, including reading to younger students, organizing toy drives and dressing up as Santa Claus to hand out gifts and words of encouragement at Fair Haven School.
“He probably did that for three years consecutively,” Michael Soares, a teacher at the elementary school, said. “He plays a huge role in a lot of our students’ lives where they don’t see people of color in those leadership roles. He’s a lieutenant and from the area, from the neighborhood, so it’s just an amazing story.”
The 29-year-old also organized food drives in New Haven alongside his fellow firefighters and first responders.
“Him, a few other of his firefighters, the guy from corrections in the police department, they all got together and started getting food, soap and everything else,” Leon Bowman, Rankins’ cousin, said. “This dude was doing anything he could do to help these people out, help them get housing, anything, … because he [felt that he wasn’t] going to leave it up to nobody else. So he got his friends together and did it.”
On May 12, Rankins and his fellow firefighters were responding to a call early that morning, around 12:45 a.m., reporting a house fire on Valley Street. The New Haven crew rescued two people out of the home, including a tenant and the 84-year-old homeowner, before firefighters received a report of two firemen “being lost and disoriented.”
Rankins and Torres were pulled out of the home unconscious. Torres, who was 30, succumbed to his injuries while Rankins was transported to the burn unit at Bridgeport Hospital and put into a medically induced coma as doctors extracted carbon monoxide from his lungs.
The firefighter spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and was released days before his birthday, where he was greeted with hundreds of community members gathered outside and cheering his recovery.
He was taken back to the hospital in early June after experiencing lung complications. He has since returned home and continues to recover.
“I have a long road ahead of me, but I know I am not alone,” Rankins said. “Out of such a dark time, came so much light and love.”
Jessika Harkay can be reached at email@example.com.
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