The suicidal man stood atop the Fire Island Inlet bridge on an 8-inch girder, clutching a light pole as Suffolk police officers Glen Baillargeon and William Judge climbed some 20 stories to reach him.
“I’m Billy,” Judge called out to the man, who had parked his car on the bridge Sunday morning, leaving the doors open and music blaring. “I’m here to help you. How can I get you out of this?”
As the wind whipped and traffic below came to a standstill, Judge and Baillargeon, members of the department’s elite Emergency Services Unit, proceeded over the course of about three hours to talk the 42-year-old man off the arched steel span.
The officers were recognized for their lifesaving efforts at a Monday news conference at Suffolk police headquarters in Yaphank.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, alongside Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, described the officers’ response as “an unbelievable act of bravery and skill.”
Judge and Baillargeon responded after Suffolk police received a call at about 8:34 a.m. Sunday reporting the suicidal man on top of the bridge, part of the Robert Moses Causeway that connects Oak Beach to Fire Island. A Suffolk police helicopter buzzed overhead as ESU officers from the Marine Bureau arrived on the scene.
The man, whom police did not identify, was standing perilously outside of the bridge’s safety rail. Once Judge got close enough, he tried to develop a rapport.
“I had said to him at one point, ‘We really care about you, we want to get you out of this,’ ” Judge said Monday as he recounted the encounter for reporters. “He said, ‘You don’t care about me.’ And I said, ‘Me and my partner are the only two people around here that are up here with you right now . . . that’s gotta tell you something.’ And he shook his head up and down.”
After the man agreed to stand on the inside of the safety rail, Judge hugged and thanked him. Baillargeon then attached the man to a harness and the officers got on either side of him, like “a sandwich,” according to Judge. The officers “very slowly and methodically” worked their way down, Judge said.
Sini referred to the 43-officer Emergency Services Unit as the “men we ask to do some of the most dangerous work in the Suffolk County Police Department.”
The suicidal man was not injured but was taken to a hospital, police said. As he descended with the officers’ guiding him, he expressed gratitude.
“At one point he looked up to me, he goes, ‘Billy, thank you,’ ” Judge said. “I said, ‘My friend, thank you for giving us this opportunity to get you out of here.’ ”