ONEIDA, N.Y.-- An Oneida city firefighter is in University Hospital's burn unit, critically injured after a roof collapsed on top of him early Sunday morning.
Firefighter Mitch Dryer was battling a fire at the City Lanes bowling alley on Main Street in Oneida.
The firefighters who've been with him say he's got long road ahead.
The fire burned right through his coat, and he's got severe burns on his arms, his shoulder, his neck, and also broken bones.
Firefighter Dryer had just gotten back from Iraq, was thrilled to be fighting fires here again, and was one of the first of their guys on the scene, early Sunday morning.
Within minutes of the fire call, Dryer was inside the burning building.
He went in through the front door, with another fireman, Lt. Rob Cowles.
"At the time we didn't know how bad it was," shift commander Jim Dowd says.
The two were waiting to hear from Dowd, whether to fight the fire from the outside or to stay in.
"They were waiting for that decision when some embers started falling down from the ceiling so they started to work on those to figure out where they were coming from and before they could react the whole second floor came down on them," Dowd says.
Lt. Cowles got out ok, everyone else was told to stay out of the building because it wasn't safe. But they didn't, they couldn't.
"I told our guys we're staying we're gonna get him out of her and they did it."
"Literally by hand they tore that debris out of there piece by piece in an environment where you can hardly see, extreme temps, fire. I don't know how to explain it, you gotta be there."
By the time they got to Mitch Dryer, a good 20 minutes after the collapse, he had less than a minute of air left in his oxygen tank.
Oneida city firefighters have been coming and going from the hospital all day, and departments from Utica and Rome are covering any fires in Oneida, so that the guys can focus on being with Mitch.
State fire investigators will be at the bowling alley all week, trying to figure out how the fire started, and why the roof collapsed so quickly.
Republished with permission of WSYR-TV.