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Vincent J. Fildes, Buffalo firefighter who met man he saved as a child

(Dec. 4, 1926 – March 9, 2017)

Vincent J. Fildes of Tonawanda, a veteran Buffalo firefighter who served as co-commander of the city's Fire Investigation Unit in the 1980s, died Thursday (March 9, 2017) in Buffalo General Hospital after a brief illness.

Mr. Fildes was 90.

A Navy veteran of World War II, Mr. Fildes joined the Buffalo Fire Department in 1952. During his career, Mr. Fildes served at Engine 27, Rescue Squad 3, Engine 24, Hook and Ladder 7 and Ladder 11, rising to the rank of captain.

In April 1982, Mr. Fildes was named co-commander of the city Fire Investigation Unit, serving with a police sergeant to head the 14-member police and fire squad, which investigated all suspicious fires and all arson cases in the city.

On March 6, 1968, Mr. Fildes saved Patrick Weatherspoon, age 4, from a raging house fire. Mr. Fildes crawled into the Weatherspoon family's flame- and smoke-filled home on Sherman Street, with only a hoseline for protection, and grabbed the boy. Patrick's sister, Geneva, died in the fire, and Patrick suffered serious burns.

In a 1968 Buffalo News story about the rescue, Capt. Carlton A. Dick of Engine 21, who helped revive Weatherspoon, said Mr. Fildes crawled out of the house coughing and choking, but went back in to rescue the boy.

In March 2014, Mr. Fildes met Weatherspoon again for the first time since the rescue. He recalled, “I don’t know whether I heard you hollering, or I saw you," as Weatherspoon listened intently. “All I know is that I reached in and pulled you out.”

Dick told The News in 1968 that Mr. Fildes emerged from the house with the unconscious boy, handed him the child, then collapsed.

“I must have got a good snootful of smoke,” Mr. Fildes said in 2014, lauding Dick's crew and others for helping rescue Weatherspoon and attempting to save his sister.

At that meeting, Weatherspoon's wife and daughter both cried and thanked Mr. Fildes profusely, but he praised his fellow firefighters for their help.

Mr. Fildes won a Buffalo Fire Department Officers Association award for bravery for saving Weatherspoon.

Mr. Fildes was a devout Catholic and for many years a frequent blood donor.

Mr. Fildes is survived by his wife, the former Margaret M. Simson, whom he married on April 24, 1948, and their eight children, John, Gregory, Mary Jo Manos, Martha Falzarano, Beth, Jeffrey, Peter and Amy Ohlenschlager. He is also survived by a brother, Richard, 21 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Francis of Assisi Church in Tonawanda. Memorials may be made to St. Francis of Assisi Outreach.

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