“It was a Monday night around 5 a.m. ... Before we went out the door, we knew we were going to work,” said Firefighter Michael A. Czech, of the Jan 27, 2009 incident where he was instrumental in rescuing three people.
Czech, of FDNY Ladder 142, was among those recently selected by Firehouse Magazine for the 2009 Heroism Awards for his actions.
His crew was first-due for the three-story, multiple-unit dwelling. Fire was venting out the back, heavy smoke was venting out the front and they knew there were possibly people trapped. Czech was in the O.V. position (outside vent.)
“I started making my way to the rear when someone grabbed me and said they saw kids in the third floor window,” he said.
Czech assisted Firefighter Ed Rissland, who was acting as chauffeur, in setting up the tower ladder and they rode the bucket to the window. As they forced through child guard gates they heard a radio transmission that the heavy fire from the rear was moving toward the front of the second floor, and a second handline was needed. By now, fire was venting from the windows directly below the bucket, and they knew they had little time.
Both entered the building. “It was dumb luck I was on the side of the bucket to go first into the window,” Czech said. They encountered black smoke and high heat, but Czech had gone less than five feet before he found a six-year-old boy on a bed. On a bed across room they found a 10-year-old boy, and brought them back to the window. Czech handed them to Rissland in the bucket and continued searching.
Next Czech found the mother in the hallway outside the bedroom, dragged her to the window, and the two got her into the bucket. Czech said they initially thought the small mother was another child. “She had closed the door to the bedroom – if she hadn’t done that, I don’t know if they would be here,” he said.
Rissland took the three apparently lifeless victims down and then rejoined Czech to keep searching, as by this time conditions had started to improve.
They head the next day that the kids were ok, and heard the day after that the mother was ok.
Czech said he’d never been directly involved in a rescue like this before, although he has been on jobs where victims were too far gone to be saved.
“I didn’t think they were going to make it either,” he said. “I’m never going to forget it.”
Czech stressed that everyone responding that night played a role in the successful outcome.
“Without everybody that was working that night, it might not have happened the way it did,” he said. “The cards fell in place that night.”