Meriden cadets honored for quick action, poise during real emergencies

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MERIDEN — It was a typical school day at Orville H. Platt High School earlier this school year, and class had just started, when Hector Suquilanda noticed something was wrong. 

Suquilanda was seated at the back of the classroom that day and one of his classmates seated near the front of the room had collapsed. Suquilanda’s classmate had just experienced a grand mal seizure and lost consciousness.

Suquilanda, who is 17 years old, a senior at Platt, and a member of the Meriden Police Cadets, is also certified in first aid, CPR and mental health first aid. He acted immediately.

“I was going to figure out what was wrong,” said Suquilanda, who will test next month to receive his full certification as an Emergency Medical Technician. “So I go out to help her. I moved the desk away.”

Suquilanda then was able to put his classmate in what he called a “recovery position” while his teacher directed their peers to leave the classroom. With his teacher’s assistance, Suquilanda directed his classmate’s immediate care, while calling the nurse’s office and waiting for first responders to arrive. They ensured Suquilanda’s classmate was in a safe position until the seizure had run its course, all while keeping a close eye on her vitals, tracking her pulse and breathing. Suquilanda said his classmate soon regained consciousness and was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. His classmate fully recovered later that day.  

Recognition from city and state officials

Suquilanda was one of three Meriden Police Cadets to receive Spirit of Meriden Award recognition from Mayor Kevin Scarpati during Monday night’s City Council meeting for their quick decisive actions during emergencies. Suquilanda’s cadet colleagues, Abigail Lespier and Haley Lespier, both 19, also were recognized by city officials for their actions during a separate incident last November: a multi-car crash on Interstate 691. Like Suquilanda, the Lespier sisters are also CPR and first aid certified, skills they acquired as Meriden Police Cadets. 

The Meriden Police Cadets program currently enrolls close to two dozen teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 20. It was established in 1981 — first as the Meriden Police Explorers. 

Meriden Police Officer Jeffrey Witkin oversees the Cadet program. The stories of the skills and quick action shown by the three cadets were first shared during a meeting of the American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee in late February. Those stories led the mayor to formally recognize all three as March’s Spirit of Meriden Award recipients.

“I can’t think of three more worthy individuals that we are honoring this evening,” Scarpati said on Monday night. City officials were joined by members of Meriden’s state legislative delegation, who presented the trio with citations from the Connecticut General Assembly commending their actions.

Later that evening, the council would vote unanimously to approve awarding the Meriden Police Cadet program with $244,600 in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Those funds will cover a variety of program costs, including a proposal to add commercial drone pilot certification to the training future cadets will receive, at no cost to those cadets. In addition to training cadets in first aid and CPR, the program also provides cadets with ongoing community service opportunities, including delivering holiday meals to local charities, and delivering essential items for children housed in local domestic violence shelters. 

Calm and focused

Abigail Lespier and Haley Lespier and their family were on their way home from an aunt’s in November, when they saw that traffic had come to a halt on I-691. Their father pulled over to the freeway’s median, and the sisters stepped out of their vehicle to see what occurred. It was a car crash. 

Haley Lespier said she ran to the car of one of the drivers. She saw a man sitting in the car and noticed his head was down. 

“I checked his pulse. I tapped him. He wasn’ responding. No pulse. His airbag didn’t go off,” Haley Lespier said. She observed he suffered facial injuries. Her father, who is a fire marshal, began administering CPR. Abigail Lespier assisted. 

Meanwhile, Haley Lespier looked toward the other vehicle involved in the crash. She could see that the vehicle’s occupants appeared confused. The driver was still conscious, but had suffered significant injuries, Haley Lespier recalled. So she asked him a series of questions, starting with, “Can you talk to me?” She then asked him his name, while sitting with him on the ground, keeping him warm. She applied pressure to his wound. 

Haley’s sister would join her in helping keep the injured driver responsive.

“We tried to tell him everything is going to be fine,” Abigail Lespier said. 

When first responders were able to respond to the scene the pair helped them place that individual on a stretcher. They ensured that officers had the driver’s identification. 

The two said the skills they learned through their cadet training, which includes drills pertaining to real-life scenarios, helped them stay calm and focused in the moment. 

Valuable training in life-saving measures

Meriden Police Chief Roberto Rosado, in an email to the Record-journal, stated he is “glad to see that our Cadets took the initiative to learn medical courses and used what they learned to perform life saving measures.  The City of Meriden should be proud of their heroic acts. These acts demonstrate how valuable training and education is for young men and women."

Meriden Police Lt. Hector Cardona Jr. similarly praised the program and Witkins, its director. 

“All of the training keeps them level headed and calm in a real life emergency situation,” Cardona said. “I’m very proud of that. 

The cadets hold weekly training every Thursday night. They also train occasionally on weekends, Witkin explained. 

“We’re asking a lot from the kids,” Witkin said, while noting that cadets have undertaken other efforts through their own initiatives. When two police officers were killed in Bristol last fall, Abigail and Haley Lespier led an effort to ensure that local police had mourning bands to place over their own badges.  

“What an amazing thing for a young teenager to do,” Witkin said. “They decide what they need and go do it on their own.”

Abigal and Haley Lespier both graduated from Maloney in 2021. They attend Manchester Community College, both planning to pursue careers in law enforcement. Suquilanda, still in high school, is already a certified instructor in CPR and first aid. 

Witkin described a desire to ensure Meriden’s cadet program continues to provide participants with robust training opportunities that he said will help them explore further educational and career opportunities. 

“When cadets leave here and finish this program, they should be able to say they’re an EMT, they should be able to say that they are a CPR and first aid instructor. They should be able to say they are a commercial drone pilot,” Witkin said. 

“We do a lot more than most other programs,” he said, noting that the local program helps young people who come from low-income backgrounds with opportunity. “Nobody else is having their kids do CPR.”

It also helps young people build confidence and “own their space,” Witkin said. All three cadets agreed.

Haley Lespier said the program has helped her change for the better. When she started, she was shy. 

“I did not want to talk in front of people,” she said. “But now I’m much more confident.”



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