Saugus Town Manager Scott Crabtree swears in Lt. Bill Cross of the Saugus Fire Department (Bridget Turcotte)

Saugus promotes heroic firefighter to lieutenant

SAUGUS — Saugus Fire Lt. Bill Cross, Firefighter Anthony Arone, and Firefighter Michael Leary were each honored for their heroic acts during two fires on Falmouth and Essex streets at the end of July.

Cross, who has been with the department for more than 23 years, was promoted to lieutenant.

"Today, right now, is one of the proudest days of my career," said Fire Chief Michael Newbury. "The actions that these people took were in line with the highest tradition of the Saugus Fire Department."

First, a kitchen fire broke out at 7 Falmouth St. When crews arrived, a scan of the apartment with a thermal imaging camera showed no one was in the home, but Cross heard the man, who was unconscious but breathing, cough about 15 to 20 feet from where he was standing in a smoke-filled hallway.

Cross dragged the man from the heat of the kitchen and others helped by grabbing his legs and armpits and dragging him into the hall. Others took him from the hallway outside, and the first group returned to the apartment, said Newbury.

The man was taken to Mass General Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation and initially listed in critical condition, but now he is expected to survive.

Four days later, a second man was badly burned on his arms and head in a fire on Essex Street.

George Mabee was cooking dinner when oil splattered onto the heating element and started a blaze he couldn't put out on his own. He warned his neighbor, got himself out of the  building and met first responders on the front lawn. When they arrived, he told them his dog was still inside the burning building. Leary found a dog in the apartment and carried him to safety.

Mabee was also taken to Mass General Hospital and treated for second-degree burns.

Cross said the rescues were exactly what the department had trained for.

"It was like muscle memory," said Cross, who added that it's because of the people he got to work with and learn from that he was able to do his job that day.

Following the recognition at Town Hall Wednesday, Newbury announced Cross would be permanently sworn in as a fire lieutenant. He had been serving as a provisional lieutenant since January, when he earned the top grade on the state Fire Lieutenant Exam for the position.

As he was sworn in, a room packed with fellow Saugus firefighters and retirees, Cross' friends, and many other residents, gave a standing ovation. Meanwhile, his family stood behind him.

"There is no person more deserving than him," said Newbury. "Right now, I'm very proud to call Bill Cross my brother."

Cross is a 2008 recipient of the Medal of Valor for his rescue of a double amputee

while he was off-duty. He has been the union president of Saugus Firefighters Local #1003 for two decades, following in the footsteps of his father, Chelsea Fire Capt. Bill Cross Jr., who spent much of his career in the union.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree called the actions of the three firefighters and the team that worked beside them "tremendous."

"I have a lot of respect for our first responders," he said. "Any firefighter or police officer can have their life taken away from them on any day at any time. People don't realize that when they go to work from 9 to 5 and they're home for dinner every day. It's a different job when you're in public safety."

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