Galligan said that by the time they got there, seven people had already jumped from the second floor. As the two firefighters made their way to the back of the house, they could hear the screams of a grandmother who was holding a baby out of the window by its wrists.
Since the area behind the building was crowded and narrow, they opted to use a 35-foot ground ladder to reach the woman.
"We knew the only way to get over to her was to use ground ladder," Santry said. "Once the ladder was in place, Kevin took the baby from her and handed it back to me."
As the grandmother was led out to safety, she notified the firefighters that her two daughters were still in the building. Galligan climbed into the window to check for them.
"It took me about two crawling steps before I found the first one," he said.
He said both women retreated to a bathroom as the fire spread throughout the building. Galligan said the conditions were some of the worst he has seen.
"There was total absolute zero visibility," he said. "The companies had to do a blitz attack with deck guns" to control the fire.
After transporting the first woman to the window, Galligan knew he couldn't go at it alone. "I grabbed Lt. Santry and told him he had to come in with me," he said.
The second woman -- Sandra Calderon, the mother of the child -- proved a tough task for the two firefighters as they began to fatigue as conditions worsened.
By the time Galligan and Santry moved Calderon to the window, they were too tired to lift her out. That's when Eonas came in to assist the two firefighters in the rescue.
Galligan had brought a thermal imaging camera into the fire, but was unable operate it in the cramped space. "I couldn't lift it to my face," he said.
Fortunately, he left the imager in the house while he pulled out the first woman, and said it came in handy when they went back in for the second as it was sitting right in front of the second woman.
Despite their attempt to save Calderon, she died a few days later from smoke inhalation.
"I still to this day regret not being able to get (Calderon) out" on my own, Galligan, who was promoted to lieutenant two months after the rescue, said. "You do your best and that's the best you can do."
Soon after the fire, Santry received a card from the family, thanking him and the other two firefighters for their efforts.
Asked if he had ever been involved in a rescue attempt of this magnitude, Santry said, "No not this dramatic or intense really. There was no time for a hose line or anything for this.
"Going to the fire, I knew it was going to be bad. Once we were ascending the ladder, I knew we weren't going to have much time to attempt a rescue."
What makes the rescue even more remarkable is the fact that the three firefighters weren't used to working on the same crew. Both Santry and Galligan said the entire operation ran smoothly.
"The biggest thing that I got out of it was that the training we get from this department really prepared us for the worst of the worst," Santry said. "All the things I learned here came like clockwork."
Galligan echoed his comrade's sentiment, "Nothing goes flawless, but it went just like we planned for ... There was no stopping; there was no discussion."
2007 Firehouse Heroism Awards
Grand Prize Recipient
- Firefighter James T. Byrne, FDNY Ladder 121
After leading a probationary firefighter to a refuge area, he crawled 22 feet under wind-driven flames to rescue a downed firefighter. He carried him back to safety.
- Assistant Chief Tim Bradley, Mebane, NC, Fire Department
Arriving before fire apparatus, he entered a well-involved mobile home to rescue a child without SCBA or a hoseline.
- Firefighter Joseph W. Donatelli, FDNY Ladder 132
After being lowered from the roof on a rope, rescued a woman trapped on the 25th floor as fire burned on the two floors below.