Rhode Island TSA officer comes to woman’s aid, shares personal items during car fire

Wednesday, February 9, 2022
PVD car fire photo

In the aftermath of a blizzard, TSA Officer Linda Papineau was driving cautiously on her way to Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport (PVD) for work. She knew that road conditions could still be hazardous the morning after the winter storm. What she didn’t expect to see was a car engulfed in flames on the airport connector. 

Papineau approached the car fire and saw a woman in distress standing near the vehicle. She quickly pulled her car over to see if the woman was hurt.

TSA Officer Papineau
Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport TSA Officer Linda Papineau (Photo by Annette Hicks)

The woman told Papineau that the car belonged to her grandparents and all of her personal belongings were inside the burning vehicle. Papineau called 9-1-1.

“She kept saying, ‘I just want to go home’ and ‘my grandparents are going to be so upset,’” explained Papineau. “She was visibly distraught and was only wearing a sweatshirt, pants and [shoes] at the time. The blizzard conditions were winding down in the early hours of the morning, but the road conditions and temperatures were poor.” 

Once Papineau confirmed the woman was not hurt, she accompanied her across the airport connector divider through two feet of snow to a safe distance away from the engulfed car.

Noticing the woman did not have any possessions, Papineau pulled out an emergency bag from her vehicle and gave her a jacket, scarf, gloves and a blanket.

Officers Cummings and Papineau
From left, Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport Supervisory TSA Officer Brian Cummings and TSA Officer Linda Papineau (Photo courtesy of TSA PVD)

Papineau offered for the woman to sit in her car to keep warm while they awaited emergency personnel. The woman, still very distraught, opted to stand outside Papineau’s car.

She said she didn’t want to be too far from her grandparents’ car, Papineau shared.

Supervisory TSA Officer Brian Cummings, who was driving along the airport connector, saw the vehicle on fire and Papineau helping the woman. He stopped to assist and make sure everyone was alright. Papineau told Cummings everything was under control.

The car fire eventually grew in size as fire trucks were unable to reach the vehicle. Three snow plows were stopped in front of the fire trucks; the plows attempted to get through, but were blocked by the engulfed car.

Rhode Island Federal Security Director Daniel Burche said the compassion Papineau showed the woman is a great example of going above and beyond to help a person in need.

“I am very proud of Officer Papineau to have stopped and rendered aid; it is who she is,” said Burche. “As a New Englander, she was prepared for the winter with extra coats and outerwear, and she willingly gave that to the driver of the car, who had just lost all she had in the fire and was exposed to the cold. That is such a kind gesture.”

Burche also commended Cummings.

“Although Papineau had things pretty well handled, he had no way of knowing that when he also stopped to render aid and support as necessary,” Burche shared. “Rhode Island is a small state, but our people are very big in heart and gesture. The actions of Linda and Brian represent the best in themselves, TSA and Rhode Islanders.”

Papineau stayed with the woman until a Warwick Police Department patrol car arrived. She said she was glad she was able to save the woman from getting injured or worse.

"I saw a person in a bad situation that needed help and I was glad I could be that help,” Papineau said.

By Ariana Diaz, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs