Volunteerism spans three generations

WOODBRIDGE — When Phil Vetro first decided to become a member of the town's volunteer fire department back in 1952, little did he know that it would someday develop into a family tradition.

Today, Vetro, his son-in-law Emilio Mattei and his grand-daughter Tricia Mattei are recognized in town not only for their heroic efforts in community service, but also for being a family whose commitment toward volunteerism has spanned throughout three generations.

"I've always believed in helping other individuals. I guess that's what got me involved in this business in the first place," said Vetro, 87, the oldest of 55 members on the force. "It has always given me such great satisfaction."

Reflecting back on his career, Vetro recalls some horrific fires, including the blaze that ripped through the original Woodbridge Country Club when it was located on the corner of Ansonia and Johnson roads.

"That had to have been one of the largest fires this town has ever seen," said Vetro, who also worked as a machinist at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in New Haven. Now serving as social officer for the volunteer fire department where his duties include scheduling memorial services, he continued, "Teamwork is the key. In order to fight a fire successfully, everyone has to work together."

After years of sharing various stories with his family, Vetro's enthusiasm rubbed off on his son-in-law Emilio Mattei. In 1971, he joined the department where he is still an active member to this day.

During his 29-year career, Mattei has served the department in a number of capacities, including fire chief from 1983-85. In 1996, he successfully completed an emergency medical training course that qualifies him to serve as a state certified EMT technician responsible for riding in the town's new ambulance and performing life-saving medical procedures.

"Being a member of the volunteer fire department here in town allows me to give something back to the people of Woodbridge," said Mattei, who aside from volunteering on the force also works as an emergency room technician for Yale New Haven Hospital. "I totally enjoy my work."

According to Marc Santoro, fire chief since 1991, in order to become an emergency medical technician, an individual must complete a state certified class which consists of approximately 160 hours of written and practical training. Students are taught the basics of fire science, including fire behavior, water supply, ventilation procedures and outside communication. Upon completion of the course, each student is given a test. Those who score a grade of 70 or higher qualify for certification.

"Our response time here in town is one of the highest in the state and that reflects on our team of dedicated and qualified technicians," said Santoro.

Nearly half the team who serve as volunteer firefighters in Woodbridge are EMT trained, including Tricia Mattei, the family's third generation firefighter who happens to be just one of only three women currently serving on the force.

Aside from being an active member of the volunteer organization since 1994 and secretary for the department, she is also a full-time employee of Northeastern Communications where she works as a sales and service representative.

"This town is very fortunate to have such an amazing and dedicated family serving on the volunteer fire department," said Russ Arpaia, public information officer for the Woodbridge Fire Department. "They're highly respected among their peers."

Since the volunteer firefighting organization first began in 1928, 23 members have died. On May 28, there will be a Memorial Observance to honor those individuals at the First Church of Christ beginning at 10 a.m. From there, services will continue with a memorial tribute for the deceased firefighters in front of the memorial stone at the firehouse. The event is open to the entire community and there will be refreshments available at the firehouse following the ceremony