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Article Published September 4, 2019
Samuel DeBurra, Jr.: His Job Description is to Save Lives
Maria Caulfield

One might say that the job of Samuel DeBurra, Jr., comes with all the bells and whistles—along with sirens and air horns.

That’s because Sam is the fire marshal and emergency management director for the Town of Madison.

He also serves Madison in two unpaid positions: as a volunteer firefighter for the Madison Hose Company No. 1 and the president of the Board of Directors for the Madison Ambulance Association.

“I wear many hats,” he says and laughs.

But as active and dedicated as he is to his job locally, Madison is not the only town he has served as a firefighter.

From 1994 to 2015, Sam was a full-time firefighter in Hamden, concurrent with his part-time service in Madison.

“I worked here part time in the fire marshal’s office, and I worked out there full time,” he explains.

In 2008, he got on the Board of Directors of the Madison Ambulance Association, becoming president the following year. In 2015, he retired from the Hamden Fire Department as batallion chief and started a full-time position in January 2016 in the Madison fire marshal’s office as the emergency management director.

All in the Family

His passion for the profession was nurtured by his father, Sam, Sr., who took him to the firehouse when he was young, a tradition he continued with his two sons, older Sam III and younger Lawrence, when they were toddlers.

He says that while firefighters get used to the bells and sirens, “obviously, the younger impressionable years have been a bit different.”

As he speaks, Sam displays the same characteristics he identifies a firefighter should have: calm and level-headed, deliberate, purposeful, and dedicated to the job.

The dedication to firefighting runs in his family. His father was a member of the Madison Fire Department for 55 years, 25 in active service. He was instrumental in founding the Madison Junior Fire Department, where Sam, Jr., served as the charter president. Sam, Sr. passed away in 2008.

Both of Sam Jr.’s sons became members of the Junior Fire Department, a group that allows aspiring firefighters aged 16 to 20 to go on calls and learn about the profession. Sam III served in Madison and remains a nonactive member of the Hose Company even after moving out of Connecticut. Lawrence is following in his father’s footsteps, taking a career firefighter position in Hamden after serving in Madison.

Sam and his wife, Kathy, ingrained the volunteering mindset in their sons by taking volunteer positions themselves. Kathy was a past Person of the Week for her volunteer work in Madison.

Risks and Rescues

Sam’s job and responsibilities in firefighting and EMS inevitably mean risks and rescues.

He recalls one winter years ago, when a van flipped over and tumbled into the East River off I-95 in Madison. The van was carrying a family of four: a father and mother and their son and daughter, aged around six or seven.

While rescuers fished them out of the water, Sam and a few others were on the scene to help as well.

“We were on the shore, pulling them out [and] giving support,” he recalls.

Sam remembers at least one fatality, but both children survived.

During another winter, this time in Hamden when he served as captain of the town’s fire truck company, a car turned over and fell into the Mill River that runs along Whitney Avenue. The car was driven by a man in his 20s.

The rescue operation was immediate.

“We got him out of the car, out of the water, and into the ambulance and [he] was revived on the way to the hospital,” Sam says.

“He was in cardiac arrest,” he adds, but on the way down to the hospital, the paramedics were successful in reviving him.

A few months after the incident, the man returned to the Hamden fire station to thank his rescuers.

More recently, the Madison emergency management system saved the lives of a number of residents.

“[In] the last three years, we probably had about four saves,” Sam says. “They were in cardiac arrest and they were transported and then released from the hospital.

“They actually walked out of the hospital,” he adds.

Sam notes that rescues and revivals are made possible with the improvements in car technology that help keep the passenger compartment intact and the occupants safe and with the immediate administration of CPR. Sam recommends that people learn CPR to perform the procedure successfully.

To adequately serve Madison residents, the EMS needs resources, including staffing. The town currently has four ambulances, two of which are accessible round the clock.

“Two are staffed 24/7. The other ambulances provide backup…If the two are busy, then we try to get a call-in crew to staff a third ambulance,” Sam explains.

Back-up ambulances are also needed for public events such as the town fireworks, road races, or football games.

Although the Madison EMS is essential for the residents’ safety, the department’s financial problems make it more difficult to adequately provide the service.

“We’ve been struggling with income because of the adjustments made to the bills by Medicare and Medicaid,” Sam explains.

The problem lies in the fact that for Medicare and Medicaid patients, Madison EMS is allowed to bill only 40 percent of the state’s allowable amount.

“The State of Connecticut sets the billing rates for the ambulance,” Sam explains. “When someone is on Medicare or Medicaid, that rate gets reduced by almost 60 percent.”

He adds, “Quite a few of our patients that we do transport are on Medicare or Medicaid. It’s probably 75 percent.”

It’s a financial bleed that the Madison Ambulance Association hopes to stem through fundraising efforts. The town also tries to address the financial problem in the town budget.

“The town kind of increases (its) contribution to help offset those losses,” Sam notes.

He hopes that people become more conscious of public safety and give it the focus it needs.

“I don’t think people put the emphasis on public safety,” he says. “Madison has two volunteer fire companies and EMS is paid, but it needs to be supported. Public safety needs to be supported within the town.”

Still, Sam enjoys his job because of the service he renders to the people of Madison.

“The most fulfilling part is helping people. Most of the time we’re helping people make some normalcy out of a chaotic situation and [we’re] helping them on their worst day. We’re meeting them where it’s a medical or motor vehicle accident or a fire and something bad has happened to them.”

To Sam, the best part of his job is stepping in, helping people, and saving lives.

To nominate a Person of the Week, email Maria Caulfield at m.caulfield@shorepublishing.com.