A Fitchburg, Massachusetts, school resource officer is being hailed as a hero after saving a choking girl’s life.
Officer Steven Hachey was awarded the District Attorney’s Team Excellence and Merit (TEAM) award by Fitchburg Mayor Steven DiNatale and Chief Ernest Martineau for his actions in coming to the choking student’s aid.
The girl, 12-year-old Jean Sprague, choked in the Longsjo Middle School cafeteria on March 2. Luckily for her, Officer Hachey was nearby.
According to Sprague, her friend noticed something was wrong and “dragged her over” to Hachey, who quickly noticed she was choking as she was unable to speak and pointing to her throat. Hachey immediately performed the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the food from her airway.
Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr., who also attended the award ceremony, credited Hachey with saving the girl’s life: “She began breathing again. At that point, she could not breathe. Officer Hachey, in no uncertain terms, saved her life.”
After the incident, a school employee called Jean’s mother, Sherri Sprague, to tell her what happened.
“I broke down crying,” Sprague said after the ceremony. “When it happened, I was crying. That’s my baby. She’s not a baby anymore, but she’s still my baby.”
Sprague said she and her daughter will never forget what Hachey did that day.
“Here’s something, she’s never going to forget that. No matter how old she is, she’ll never forget that happened and she’ll know what to do,” Sprague said.
Hachey is one of several officers from the Fitchburg Police Department assigned to schools in the area. Other SROs are stationed at Fitchburg High School and Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.
However, Worcester County recently ended its school resource officer program in 2021 on the suggestion of City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. in a report addressing structural and institutional racism in the city.
The topic of requiring SROs at schools has been controversial in the post-George Floyd era of policing. Depending on the city or state, SRO programs are either being phased out as part of the “defund the police” social justice narrative, or are being increasingly funded to protect against school shootings, as in the case of a recent Virginia bill.
As a compromise, instead of having SROs assigned to specific schools, Worcester police (including Fitchburg) will assign “school liaison officers” to monitor and respond to general areas.
Chief Martineau said that SROs are crucial to the safety of the school community, describing them as part of the “family.”
“What family does is we take care of each other. When we’re in this building, you need to feel safe, and we’re one family working together — law enforcement, teachers and students. What Steve did a couple of months ago shows that. We’re a family. A family member needed help and we came to their aid,” Martineau said.
Hachey said he was surprised and honored to be recognized by the DA’s office.
“I’m just glad I was here working here in the school and it was basically just being at the right place at the right time,” said Hachey. “We have a really good training department which prepares us for stuff like this and it all just kicked in.”