By Ken Jubie ’04
The sound of two bombs exploding near the finish line of the Boston Marathon is impossible to forget. In just 12 seconds, the terrorist attack killed three people, injured hundreds more and left thousands scared and confused.
When he heard the first explosion, Boston firefighter Jimmy Plourde ’99 was working about 50 feet away from its source. He knew it sounded like a bomb and immediately started running to help. “We didn’t have to run far to see people coming at us with cuts and clothes ripped off and burned,” Plourde said.
Even Plourde, who worked for Boston EMS before becoming a firefighter almost four years ago, didn’t anticipate how bad the scene was going to be. Amidst the chaos, he relied on his training and trusted his instincts. “I realized that I had a job to do and my first thought was who can I help first,” Plourde said.
As he navigated the smoky, blood-smeared scene, Plourde made his way through the scaffolding and bleachers and into the building near the blast site. As he shouted for people to leave the area, the firefighter heard a call for assistance. “Another guy, Bruce, yelled, ‘Hey, you have to help this girl,’” Plourde said. “So I went over and he had started to tie a tourniquet. I tightened it down and I said, ‘You gotta go. I’ll take care of this girl.’”
The image of Plourde carrying her to safety has become synonymous with the heroism and bravery exhibited by Boston’s first-responders in the aftermath of the attack. “At first, that picture angered me a bit as I was dealing with the emotions of the day,” Plourde said. “But now it gives me a sense of pride knowing that I did my best that day and I know everyone else that was out there did their best as well.”
The girl in the picture is Victoria McGrath. Plourde visited her in the hospital and has kept in touch. He said she’s recovering and remains in good spirits. “She could have lost her life that day,” Plourde said. “I like to think that the efforts of not only myself, but everybody that was involved helped save her life so she can go on and do great things.”
The potential for loss on that fateful day hits close to home for Plourde. His wife Michelle brought their 18-month-old daughter Ceileigh down to the finish line to see her first Boston Marathon. They were sitting in front of the building where the first bomb would explode. Fortunately, they left in the nick of time. “I got a text at 2:30 p.m. saying that they’re hopping on the train. The bombs went off at 2:49 p.m.,” Plourde said. “Nineteen minutes could have changed my life forever.”
Plourde credits his family and fellow firefighters with helping him cope with the myriad of emotions that came in the wake of such a traumatic event that was in the national spotlight. As he fielded hundreds of calls, Plourde said that hearing from his Siena College friends gave him comfort. “It was the Siena guys that reached out and made the difference because they’re genuine, they’re friends and I know I can count on them.”
Plourde majored in political science and played rugby while at Siena, but he said the community support makes the College special. He said one impromptu learning experience during a Siena event has stuck with him through his days working as a history teacher, for Boston EMS and now as a firefighter. “It all kind of ties back for me to something I learned at Siena. It’s on my Facebook page, and I say it to kids; live your life to be greater than yourself. Fr. Kevin Mackin, O.F.M. said that.”
Plourde believes that the former Siena College president’s remarks are words to live by and he hopes to some day pass them along to his children. “You can go out in the world, you can make a lot of money, you can do a lot of different things, but at what point do you say, ‘Maybe this is enough,’” Plourde said. “You need to give back and help somebody else out. And that’s really going to be the measure of a man for me.”
While Plourde’s profile has become more pronounced, his perspective hasn’t changed. It remains the same as it has been since he took Fr. Mackin’s message to heart. Plourde is back to work and waiting for the next call or, as he sees it, the next opportunity to serve people in their time of need.
“Bad things are still going to happen. There are going to be fires, there’s going to be death and destruction,” Plourde said. “When it happens, I hope I’m on the job and I hope I can be there to help.”