The following stories were used with permission of the Providence Journal
December 11, 1968
BOY, POLICEMAN DROWN IN RESERVOIR
A five year-old Smithfield boy who fell through thin ice and a town police officer who desperately tried to rescue him were drowned about 4 p.m. yesterday in the frigid waters of lower Spragueville Reservoir.
The victims were Kenneth Firby, son of Mr. and Mrs. Archie Firby of Deer Run Trail, and Patrolman Norman G. Vezina, 38, of 6 Camp St., a policeman only eight months and the newest regular member of the town police force.
As Patrolman Vezina struggled to lift the boy above water, town firemen tried unsuccessfully several times to throw a rescue rope within his reach.
First the boy, then the policeman succumbed to the icy water and went under as Mrs. Firby, a neighbor, another patrolman and firemen watched helplessly.
Firemen launched two rescue boats. Rescue squad members in the first boat found the boy about five minutes later in water eight feet deep about 25 feet from shore. He was pronounced dead at Our Lady of Fatima Hospital.
Firemen in the second boat searched for nearly an hour before they recovered Patrolman Vezina’s body.
According to police reports and the accounts given by eyewitnesses, the child was playing alone on ice one-half to three-quarters of an inch thick when it gave way.
The first person to see the Firby child was George Simmons, 17, a senior at Smithfield High School who lives across the street from the Firby family, a few hundred feet from the water.
“I was walking down to the shore to see if the ice was thick enough for skating when I heard splashing,” he said. “I grabbed a rope from my house and ran several hundred feet along the shore when I saw Ken on his back, splashing in the water.”
The Simmons youth said he waded into the water four feet deep “and tried to throw Ken the rope. But he was talking softly and was incoherent and couldn’t grab the rope. I tried to reach him but I couldn’t.”
The teenager then waded out of the water and ran toward Mrs. Firby’s house.
He dashed by the home of Mrs. Edward A. Crino of Totem Pole Trail. Mrs. Crino said she saw him run by, picked up a pair of binoculars, looked out the parlor window and saw the child struggling in the water. She called the fire department.
The Smithfield Police Department, which monitors fire calls, immediately dispatched Patrolman Vezina and George H. Kelley, a special patrolman.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Firby saw the Simmons youth running toward her home and went outside to meet him. “She asked me immediately if there was someone in the water,” the teenager said. “I told her yes, her son, and we ran back together.
The two arrived at the scene just in time to see Patrolman Vezina throw his jacket and hat in his cruiser, leave his wallet and jacket liner on the shoreline and plunge into the water.
Mrs. Crino, who joined Mrs. Firby and the Simmons youth, said that Mrs. Firby shouted to her son: “Stay floating, honey, it’s okay.”
As Patrolman Vezina reached the boy, Patrolman Kelley and the fire department arrived. Mrs. Firby, apparently assured of her child’s safety, told the Simmons youth to go home and change his clothes.
Private Paul A. Gantz of the Greenville rescue unit said Patrolman Vezina began to lose his grasp of the Firby child “even before we got out truck stopped.”
He said he raced to the water’s edge with a life rope and tried to reach Patrolman Vezina with it, “but it was impossible to get it to him before he went down.”
Once the patrolman went under, the boy’s red knit winter cap floated to the surface.
“They just disappeared,” Mrs. Crino said.
The reservoir is about 4,000 feet long and ranges in width from 50 to 1,000 feet. The drowning occurred in a cove about 300 feet wide, and about 500 feet from Mrs. Crino’s waterfront home.
As a result of the double drowning, Roger W. Wheeler, a state recreational safety inspector, advised parents yesterday to keep children away from all ponds and other bodies of water until they have been declared safe.
He said most of the state’s ponds probably are covered only by a “skim coating” of ice. He also recommended the use of boards, branches, ropes and even clothing to save persons who have fallen through the ice. If these means are available, he said, rescuers should not jump in the water to help.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 1968
DROWNED POLICEMAN PROMOTED
The Smithfield Town Council last night awarded a posthumous promotion to sergeant to Patrolman Norman G. Vezina, who was drowned yesterday while trying to rescue a five-year-old boy in Lower Spragueville Reservoir.
Town Council Chairman Carl R. Adler said it has been customary in police departments that when an officer’s life has been taken in the line of duty that he be promoted to the next highest rank.
The promotion, he said, was recommended by the local Fraternal Order of Police and by Police Chief Arthur B. Gould, who described Patrolman Vezina as “one of the finest patrolmen” he had seen in many years. “He was an asset to the department,” Chief Gould said.
Visibly shaken, Chief Gould added: “He was a good police officer. I still can’t believe it.”
After awarding the promotion, the council suspended its regularly scheduled meeting in Patrolman Vezina’s memory.
Patrolman Vezina was the department’s newest regular member with only eight months’ service on the force. Previously he worked 18 months as a special patrolman.
The child he tried to save, Kenneth Firby, also was drowned.