When the L'Ambiance Plaza collapsed in 1987, Weston volunteer firefighter and EMT Mark Blake was one of the first responders. The Bridgeport building was 16 stories high and still under construction when it buckled, killing 28 construction workers.
"I spent a lot of time up there during the rescue and recovery phase," Blake recalled. Not a single survivor was found after the first hour of rescue efforts, he said, adding that "people were flattened ... it's not an easy thing to see."
Blake works full-time with the Westport EMS and volunteers at the Weston Fire Department, where he heads the public relations office and directs the child passenger safety team.
"It's a brotherhood [at the fire department], everybody takes care of everybody," Blake said, sitting at an oversized conference table that was confiscated by the FBI and given to the Westport EMS. "It extends, not just within the firehouse, but there's a lot of good relationships outside the firehouse as well."
Blake has been volunteering in Weston for 20 years. During that time, he has responded to numerous car accidents that left scores of children injured or dead. "Most of [the injuries] were caused because the car seat wasn't installed properly," he said.
These incidents inspired him to become a nationally certified CPS technician instructor, the first of his kind in the state. After taking 32 hours of classes, Blake now teaches parents how to install car seats properly. "Nine out of 10 of them are installed improperly," he said. Part of the problem is the constant design changes of the seats and the vehicles.
Weston's fire department, under the leadership of Chief John Pokorny , leads the state in child safety, Blake said, and has been recognized by Fairfield County Safe Kids and Connecticut Safe Kids for its efforts.
Volunteers make it happen, Blake said. "We're all volunteers," he said. "People tend to forget that, and sometimes act like we get paid. We're out here because we love helping people. That's it."