On the week that his town took the first steps to support his recovery and rehabilitation with a million dollar medical fund, Westport firefighter Steve Lopes continues to make slow but steady progress at a Braintree, Mass., rehabilitation facility.
“Every day is a little better for Steve than the day before,” said Deputy Chief Allen Manley on Thursday. “It’s a long, slow progress with little victories … one day you stand for five minutes, the next six minutes.”
Mr. Lopes, a 47-year-old Tiverton native who has also been known for many years for his ‘Portuguese Fireman’ comedy and fund raising act, slipped and fell about 30 feet from an icy roof while fighting a March 6 chimney fire at 153 American Legion Highway, Westport.
Fellow firefighter Robert Manchester tried to save his friend but also fell from the roof. He landed on a dormer where he was hauled to safety through a second floor window and then taken to the hospital for treatment for less serious injuries. He returned to duty shortly thereafter.
Mr. Lopes was moved from Rhode Island Hospital to a rehabilitation facility recently and will be there for perhaps five or six weeks, the deputy said. After that, the hope is that he will finally be able to return home.
While he was at the hospital, fellow firefighters were at his side around the clock. While that has not been possible since the move, firefighters have made regular trips to Braintree to visit Mr. Lopes.
“I can tell you that he has been extremely grateful to see visitors. The rehab is only part of the time — the rest of the day can get pretty long.”
Visitors say they have been struck by Mr. Lopes’ positive outlook despite sustaining “multiple traumatic injuries.” He was first listed in critical condition for several days before being upgraded to serious after lengthy surgery.
As for discomfort, “He is not one to complain about pain very much” despite the fact that, given the nature of his injuries, the pain must be considerable, Deputy Chief Manley said.
While the eventual costs of his recovery are not yet known, Westport’s Board of Selectmen last week approved spending over $1 million to cover Mr. Lopes’ medical and rehabilitation expenses. The action, approved in executive session, will next go to a special town meeting for taxpayer action.
Consisting of two questions, the meeting (separate from the regular annual May Town Meeting) will ask voters to approve taking $300,000 from the town’s free cash account and then ask for permission to borrow up to $750,000 for Mr. Lopes’ care.
The action is necessary, Selectmen said when announcing the vote, because Westport is self-insured and thus assumes a portion of the financial liability that would otherwise be handled by an insurance company.
Under the terms of its insurance plan, Westport is covered by the insurance company for up to $100,000 per incident involving public safety workers. The town is responsible for covering costs above that limit.
Town Administrator Jack Healey has been studying insurance options available to the town going forward, options that could include higher coverage limits for increased premium costs.
Neighboring Dartmouth had to deal with a similar case several years ago, one that caused the town to seek an override to handle the costs for covering an injured officer.
Westport Fire Chief Brian Legendre said that Mr. Lopes “is a very dedicated father of two — they are his life” — a 10-year-old son Joseph and a 13-year-old daughter Briannah.Mr. Lopes, a Tiverton native
A 1985 graduate of Tiverton High School, he lived in Alaska for nine years before moving back and landing a job as a Westport firefighter.
Firefighting is his career, he told these newspapers a few years ago; comedy more of a hobby.
“I love doing both,” he said. “Being a firefighter is in my blood, but if I can make people laugh a little bit as a comedian, that’s good.”
He has produced five CDs, which includes his trademark “Da Portuguese 12 Days of Christmas” (as sung by Manny Claus), “Da Portuguese Night Before Christmas,” “Weather Manny,” “Pootuguese On Star,” “Customer Service,” “Manny of War” and “Dr. Gil.”
These have made Mr. Lopes a big draw at fund raising events around the region.
“I do have a serious side, believe it or not,” Steve said.
Still, his funny side often comes in handy when dealing with people under duress.
“My humor translates into my bedside manner. It helps them feel a little bit more relaxed,” he said.