ISLANDIA, New York– Roseanne Kleppsattel said she felt her late husband watching over her as she stood on a New York highway wearing his firefighter turnout coat over her clothes, lending a hand at a crash scene on the way home from his funeral.
Kleppsattel, a volunteer with the Kings Park Fire Department on Long Island, where her husband, Fred, spent 45 years, said she didn’t hesitate to hop out of the back seat of the fire truck when she and members of the department stumbled upon the five-vehicle accident Tuesday.
She grabbed her husband’s jacket from the front seat and stood with the hose, ready if needed, at the Long Island Expressway accident in Islandia, while other Kings Park firefighters helped remove a woman from one of the vehicles.
Four days earlier, Fred Kleppsattel, 77, had died in his sleep of cardiac arrest at a Long Island hospital.
The son of a retired New York City firefighter, Kleppsattel served in the Air Force and was a member of the Air Force Fire Brigade in Plattsburgh, New York, in the 1960s. He was also a firefighter for the United Nations Fire Brigade and the Republic Airport Fire Brigade in Farmingdale, New York.
He joined the volunteer Kings Park department in 1971 and was an ex-chief, said his widow, 60.
He had a handlebar mustache and blue eyes, and was proud of his German heritage. That meant he was “very stubborn, very opinionated, larger than life,” his widow said.
“He could be a man of few words, but when those words came out, you knew exactly where he stood,” she said.
He liked a glass of Scotch and a cigar at the end of a long day. Patriotic, he hung an American flag outside his home.
Health problems recently forced him into a Long Island rehabilitation facility, where he suffered the cardiac arrest.
His service Tuesday drew hundreds, his widow said. The casket hadn’t even been lowered into the ground at Calverton National Cemetery when Kleppsattel, a retired registered nurse, and firefighters hit a traffic jam caused by the accident.
EMTs were the first ones there, there tending to a trapped victim.
For protection, Roseanne Kleppsattel grabbed her husband’s worn jacket with his last name across the back.
“You just react,” she said.
Firefighters had to tear the roof and doors for the woman to be rescued. Suffolk County Police said one person was treated for non-life threatening injuries at a local hospital.
Kleppsattel said she believed her husband was laughing — with his cigar and Scotch, of course — saying: “You better make me proud.”
Phil Bates, Kleppsattel’s co-worker at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport, New York, saw the picture on Facebook of Kleppsattel with her husband’s turnout coat and spread the word about her selflessness.
“This is the best of humanity,” said Bates, 51 of East Islip, New York.