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Police Captain Downplays Heroics in Boat Rescue

WESTPORT, Conn. – What started as an average fishing trip Saturday night for Westport Police Capt. Sam Arciola ended with a fiery boat rescue .

A 22-year veteran of the police department , Arciola was out on his private boat, fishing with friend Don Saunders on Long Island Sound off Cedar Point Yacht Club in Westport, when they noticed "heavy black smoke" coming from a boat about a tenth of a mile away shortly after 8 p.m.

"The boat had just come out of the Saugatuck River and passed our location — we even waved at the captain," Arciola said. "A few minutes later, we looked out to see the boat, which appeared to be on fire."

Upon seeing the smoke, Arciola said he and Saunders packed up and headed toward the boat. On the way, Arciola called police headquarters. When his boat arrived at the 47-foot-vessel, Arciola said he saw smoke coming out of the cabin.

"I backed up to the back of the boat and asked the captain if there was anyone else on board," Arciola said. "As we were talking, the helm station became fully involved in flames. It was a fast-moving fire."

At that moment, Arciola said he and Saunders got the captain onto their boat and began to back away from the fire. Within minutes, the entire vessel was on fire, he said. Despite efforts by emergency responders, the vessel burned down to the waterline.

For about five years, Arciola was a full-time member of the Westport Police Marine Division . During that time, he saw a variety of boating emergencies and took part in rescues. But he had never before rescued a person aboard a burning vessel. Nor had he ever seen a fire like that, he said.

"I've been boating since I was a kid, and I can only remember three or four fires. This was by far the most serious fire I've seen out there," said Arciola, who was also a member of the police/fire dive team for about 17 years. "That was also the largest boat I've seen on fire."

Although he and Saunders saved the captain — who had celebrated his 50th birthday earlier that night — from his vessel, Arciola doesn't think they did anything extraordinary.

"We were just good Samaritans," Arciola said. "I expect if I was in a situation like that, someone would assist me. That's what you do on the water."

What makes a hero? Do you think Arciola and Saunders are heroes? Tell us what you think below.

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