As a crowd of his peers showered him in raucous applause Wednesday morning, 5-year-old Cayden Galambos grinned from ear to ear.
The son of a Plympton firefighter, Cayden was the star of a ceremony attended by some of the state’s top fire officials, where he was awarded a Massachusetts Department of Fire Services Young Hero Award for ushering his mother out of their home when a carbon monoxide alarm blared a warning signal in October during a raging storm.
State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey and Plympton Fire Chief Steve Silva praised his bravery at the ceremony, saying his instincts in the high-pressure situation were exemplary of the safety lessons fire officials are trying to reinforce in students across the state. Cayden’s classmates gathered in his school’s cafeteria as he was handed a newly printed certificate in acknowledgement of his “heroic actions.”
“He was definitely excited but nervous, too,” said Steve Galambos, the boy’s father. “I don’t think what happened has really clicked in his head yet. It was a big day of new faces and new people.”
It was the early hours of the morning on Oct. 28 in the midst of a powerful nor’easter, when Cayden, the oldest of his parents’ four children, sprang into action.
His father, a four-year veteran of the Plympton Fire Department, had departed for the fire station at around 2 a.m. after the storm knocked out power across the town. Before he left, he flipped on the generator that sits in the family yard. Unbeknownst to him, the swirling winds managed to blow the carbon monoxide spewing from the machine into the home’s basement.
The deadly gas built up, setting off a carbon monoxide alarm while Cayden and his mother sat on the couch together.
“He immediately jumped off the couch and said ‘WE HAVE TO GO TO THE MEETING SPOT,’” the boy’s mom, Shannon, wrote in a Facebook post.
Her first move was to grab her boots. Cayden disapproved.
“I got up and it was rainy... so I stopped to put my boots on and he yelled at me and said ‘no Mom we don’t stop to put our shoes on,’” Shannon Galambos wrote in the post. “So we trudged through the mud with no shoes on...”
No one was injured in the incident, and Cayden’s father, who responded to the alarm along with other Plympton firefighters, found the family waiting in a car at the end of their driveway.
Officials said that Cayden had perfectly remembered what Plympton fire officials had taught him and his fellow Dennett Elementary School students to do in such an emergency.
A few weeks prior to the incident, Steve Galambos had been in his son’s classroom, teaching him those protocols during Fire Prevention Week. Don’t stop for anything. Get out of the house. Go to the meeting spot.
“We come in, we spend some time with the children every year at every opportunity that we have,” Plympton Fire Captain John Sjostedt told reporters after the ceremony. “We pray that they’ll never have to use the skills that we teach them. But I can’t tell you how exciting and how thrilling it is to see that the program actually works.”
Ostroskey, the state fire marshal, said Cayden represents a marked increase in fire safety awareness in Massachusetts children thanks to the state’s Student Awareness of Fire Education program, which provides local fire departments with grant money to teach fire safety in schools.
When the program began in 1996, Ostroskey said, the state averaged around 22 child fire deaths a year. Now, he said, it’s been more than a year and a half since a child has died in a fire in Massachusetts.
“What did you do?” a reporter asked Cayden as news cameras huddled around Wednesday.
Shy but proud, the boy responded, “I saved my mom.”