Andrew Kolesar knows it’s a cliché, but says he doesn’t know any other way to say it. “I was at the right place at the right time.”
It was Jan. 14, 2011, when all those things clicked. And, Capt. Ken Patterson is glad they did.
Kolesar and Patterson were among firefighters from West Haverstraw, N.Y., battling a blaze in a building that had been illegally converted into apartments.
What fire officials saw when they did a 360, was not what crews found inside.
“I heard the Mayday in stereo,” Kolesar recalled. “I heard it on my radio and I heard his voice. So, I knew I must have been close.”
The former chief went on to describe the next few minutes:
“The smoke was thick. I couldn’t see. Using my TIC, I went to left, right and found him in a bedroom. He was slumped forward. I told him I was getting him out of there. That’s when I realized he didn’t have a face piece on. He was unconscious.”
“I grabbed and dragged him by his SCBA straps. I pulled a few feet. Then, we both tumbled down the stairs.”
Once the two landed, other firefighters dashed in to help with the rescue.
Patterson was rushed to a trauma center where he was treated for smoke inhalation. He later returned to full duty.
Kolesar said he just happened to be in the hallway headed to the attic when he heard the faint voice.
His friend had removed his face piece after running out of air. Later, they would discover that the windows and doors they saw on the exterior of the house had been boarded up when the house was remodeled.
Patterson was trapped when he found no means of egress.
“Everything just worked out for the best,” Kolesar said. “I’m glad I had the TIC with me.”
One year and two days after that incident, Patterson again found himself relying on his fellow personnel for help.
He and another firefighter were evacuating residents of a townhouse following a gas line rupture when an explosion occurred.
The gas-fed blast threw the two more than 30 feet. Patterson has not returned to work since that incident.