Heimlich heroes get nationwide recognition

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 1/31/23

A custodian from Bristol and a TA from Warren received an award from the national AFSCME union for their lifesaving efforts in late 2022.

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Heimlich heroes get nationwide recognition


The statewide AFSCME union honored two members from the Local 581 (Chapter 94) who both spring into action during separate events late last year to save young students who began choking during their lunch periods at elementary schools in Bristol and Warren.

Bobby Santos, custodian at Guiteras Elementary School in Bristol, and Bonnie Dion, a teaching assistant at Hugh Cole Elementary in Warren, were both bestowed the Never Quit Service Award, which “seeks to recognize public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.”

“Both are graduates of the K-5 schools where they are now employed,” an AFSCME press release stated. “Santos and Dion aren’t just showing up to work, though. They’re showing up for the communities they’ve grown up with and continue to raise their families in.”

Reached last week, Santos and Dion hadn’t changed their tune much regarding all the attention they’ve received following their lifesaving efforts last year.

“Everyone’s calling me a hero in the Town of Bristol, but I don’t consider that,” said Santos, who has been at Guiteras for five years and a member of the Bristol Warren district for 15 years. “I think I’m just a good person. I think more people need to be like that, because I’d help anybody. I think we need to care more about people. I enjoy helping people, and the kids here are like all my little children.”

Dion also pushed praise away from herself for her actions that day.

“I’m very honored that AFSCME would honor me like that, but I just do my job and don’t really expect anything in return. But it feels nice to be recognized and get an award that shows someone is listening and somebody cares,” she said. “The veterans deserve the credit. I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t for them…They’re the real heroes in my eyes.”

That said, Dion was glad the two incidents and subsequent coverage has brought up more awareness of the Heimlich maneuver and being prepared for such a moment to happen.

“The quicker you act, the better off you are in that situation. I can’t stress enough about how much people need to learn about it,” Dion said. “I think a lot more of the people that I work with are looking for it a little bit more and are more on the ball…A lot of people think it can never happen to them, or that their kids are invincible, but it doesn’t work like that. It’s like a car accident — it can happen to anyone.”

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.