FDNY Lt. Michael Fitall recalled the Jan. 27, 2009 incident in which he and his crew rescued a grandmother as one of the defining moments of his career.
Fitall, of Ladder 143, made an aggressive rescue effort directly above the fire-floor at a multiple-unit dwelling. Because he chose to operate above an advanced fire with no handline in position in order to save a life, he was recognized by Firehouse Magazine for the 2009 Heroism Awards. This was the same incident for which Firefighter Michael A. Czech was also recognized, for rescuing a mother and two children in another apartment on the same floor.
“While we were responding, the dispatcher said they had people on the phone and they were trapped,” Fitall said. His was the second-due truck for the scene. “We ended up rolling into the box with 142,” he said. He asked what was needed and was told to take the fire floor.
The fire was on the second floor of the three-story building. Fitall and his inside team made it up and called for two and a half-inch line, and then continued to the 3rd floor.
As he was heading up, he was notified by L-142 that the second floor was untenable and that E-285 was still in the process of stretching a hoseline.
Fitall found a third-floor apartment door wide open, allowing in the heat and smoke and creating a severe condition. He located a woman in the hallway and was able to move her about five feet.
“There was zero visibility – I only felt her,” he said.
Fitall said he was trying to put a face piece on her but couldn’t see a thing. With help he got the woman downstairs and saw that she was red. “I knew she needed a breath but I couldn’t do it,” he said. Firefighter Jason Griffiths stepped in to do a resuscitation despite having no barrier.
“He started giving her mouth-to-mouth and that’s what brought her back,” Fitall said. They later learned that the woman was in a burn center for seven days, but made it.
He credited the save to the team effort and also specifically named chauffeur Doug Caffarone as instrumental.
Fitall later learned that the people who’d been on the phone with dispatch were the mother and two children that Mike Czech and his crew rescued.
“It stands out in my career,” Fitall agreed of the experience. He said it felt strange to be recognized for his actions, and wished his entire crew could have could have received an award. Instead, he had plaques made for them and they celebrated with a boys’ night out.