'My guardian angel.' Pregnant woman rescued from icy pond by off-duty firefighter
Three former strangers from Fairfield are now linked for life after a dramatic rescue from an icy pond that saved a pregnant woman, her unborn child and her dog.
Melissa Miller told News 12, "I definitely had somebody looking over me that day."
On Feb. 4, Miller was hiking with her dogs, Oscar and Misty May, at Perry's Mill Pond. The pond was empty except for one other person, Lauren Effron.
"I was heading back from my hike and met Lauren and her dog, Cletus," Miller remembered. "Lauren joked 'we're the only crazies out here today.'"
"I remember just thinking, 'Here's another brave woman out on a cold rainy day walking her dogs,'" Effron added.
After talking for a bit, the two women and their pets went their separate ways. Miller was walking to the parking lot when Misty May ran out onto the frozen pond.
"I had known that the temperatures that day were above freezing so I was nervous and calling her to come back," Miller said. "And she literally looked at me and fell right through the ice. My fear was that she would go under the ice, and my instinct was I have to help her."
Back in the woods, Effron decided to end her walk early. She saw Miller head onto the ice and started running to the shore.
"I'll never forget the image of her falling in," Effron recounted emotionally. "And she screamed, and I said, 'I'm calling 911.'"
Once in the icy water, Miller tried to lift Misty May up onto the ice.
"It just kept breaking. The ice was too thin. And at that point, I was inhaling water, and it was becoming very difficult to breathe," Miller said, choking up. "I realized I had to think about myself."
Miller is 7 ½ months pregnant with a boy, the first child for her and her husband.
"I basically just went onto my back and floated just to catch my breath," Miller recalled.
Two-hundred yards away, at a house across the pond, Bridgeport firefighter Marcus Dierna and his wife were in the kitchen.
"We looked out the window and saw some commotion and possibly somebody or something in the water. So my fire department training kicked in," Dierna told News 12. "I looked for a rope, but I didn't have a rope. So I grabbed a garden hose."
Dierna ran down to the pond where Effron was on the shore, trying to keep Miller calm. He tied the garden hose to a tree and made his way out onto the ice.
"The next thing I know this man gets Misty and I out of the water," Miller said. "And when I got out, I couldn't feel my body at all. I was completely numb, shaking, and all I could think about was my baby."
Fairfield firefighters and EMS arrived shortly after. Miller was rushed to the hospital, while first responders rounded up her dogs, who are fine. Doctors confirmed mom and baby were too.
"Marcus was honestly my guardian angel that day, and I don't know what would've happened had he not been there," Miller said.
"Marcus literally saved my entire family that day," added Cameron Smith, Miller's husband. "That morning started out as any normal day, and I was quickly reminded of two things: It was fragility of life and the so-called comfort we have on a day-to-day basis and more importantly, that there really are heroes in our community."
Not that Dierna will call himself one.
"I was in the right place at the right time and just happy to do it," Dierna said. "Being a Bridgeport firefighter, we sort of see this stuff all the time, and you know, it's really just another day in our life. When you get to meet the people on the other end, it sort of leaves an impression on you."
A week later, in an emotional reunion, Dierna, Effron, and Miller met back up at Perry's Mill Pond — a get-together that won't be their last.
"I'm just filled with relief and gratitude that it all turned out ok," Effron said.
"I've been overwhelmed by their reactions," Dierna added.
"We've definitely formed this sort of bond, and I'm just so grateful," Miller said.