Last Moments of FDNY Firefighters Revealed

NEW YORK-- "Mayday, mayday, mayday! . . . Engine 75, 15 feet in, running out of air."

Veteran FDNY Lt. Howard Carpluk spent his last conscious moments pleading for air and desperately trying to communicate his position after being buried in a floor collapse, says an FDNY report on the tragic Aug. 27, 2006, Bronx blaze that also killed rookie firefighter Michael Reilly.

"You see where the line went in? There's a hole for me to get air - we need a mask toward the back," Carpluk told searchers minutes after his initial "mayday."

A mere four minutes later, he gasped: "Mask. Get it back here. I'm out of air . . Keep coming straight back here, we only need a mask. There's a void for me, come here, you'll see it. All I need is air, bro."

Carpluk, Reilly and eight other firefighters tumbled into a trash-filled abyss while fighting a blaze in a 99-cent store.

According to transcripts of FDNY handie-talkie recordings made at the scene and included in the report, which was obtained by The Post, Reilly was never heard from after the collapse.

But Carpluk, 43, almost immediately began calling for help, calmly and heroically communicating at least a dozen distress calls from 1:01 p.m. until he was found at 1:26 p.m.

Amid the chaotic radio chatter, some of Carpluk's mayday calls went unheard.

"All handie-talkie traffic cease," a Division 6 commander barked in frustration at one point. "Unit with the mayday, go ahead."

Carpluk responded with directions, trying to lead frantically digging firefighters through the harrowing maze.

"75 to Alpha . . . you have to go further back. Mayday, further back," he said.

Later, as his 40 minutes of oxygen ran out, he pleaded with the firefighters that he could hear rummaging around him.

"Come on, see the guy with the line. Forget the water, give me the mask first and turn around and hit it. You go down the left side, 75 mayday, go down the left side. You'll see me sticking out my hand."

Carpluk finally grabbed the leg of a firefighter crawling past him - and got his air mask.

"Save my probie," he urged. "He's underneath me."

The fallen firefighters were hidden beneath a massive air-conditioning unit.

The motion sensors on their bunker gear - designed to beep and flash when a firefighter has not moved in 30 seconds - failed to alert rescuers to their location, the report revealed.

One by one, eight other entombed firefighters were freed.

But Carpluk and Reilly, trapped face down, bent forward from the waist and partially wedged under a splintered girder, were all but unreachable.

By the time Carpluk was freed at 2:15 p.m., he was in cardiac arrest. He died the following day from asphyxia and head trauma.

Reilly, buried for one hour and 40 minutes, died at the scene of asphyxiation due to "compression of the chest," the FDNY said.

The Bronx DA's investigation into the deaths continues. The FDNY report concluded that the engineer hired by building owners in 2000 to repair prior fire damage had illegally removed some support beams from the basement and failed to notice the remaining ones were significantly weakened by decay and termites. The city allowed the engineer to self-certify his work.

Republished with permission of The New York Post.

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