John Curley has assisted with numerous fires over the past 30 years, but there’s one that will stay with him forever.
He got the page about the house fire with possible entrapment while he and his son were on the way to get boilers for fellow neighbors and firefighters whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Instincts kicked in – the trip that foggy November day would be delayed.
The Bellmore, N.Y. firefighter was headed to the fire, knowing that the fire department’s ranks were down due to the devastating storm.
Even though he didn’t have his turnout gear with him, just maybe he could help.
He did. And, Firehouse Magazine has selected him as the top hero of 2012.
He found heavy fire conditions in the two-story house, and a man trying to put an old wooden ladder on top of a file cabinet. Without hesitation, he climbed up on the five-foot cabinet to get on the ladder.
Once up to the second story, he ripped out the screen and smashed a window. He burned his finger tips trying to remove the second, but he didn’t stop.
“After the windows were removed, heavy black brown smoke began to vent, enough so I that I could see inside the window and see only the foot end of a bed which was partially under the window…”
He spotted the woman on the bed, about eight feet into the room. He crawled toward them. “I then lifted her by her torso and carried her onto the bed which was just next to the window.”
After getting some fresh air, he returned to move the woman, managing to get her head partially out the window.
“By this time, the fire was rolling across the ceiling and started to burn my head and ears. At this point, I considered dropping her down to the people on the ground but that action would have knocked over the ladder and file cabinet (my way out). I then chose to climb over the woman and back onto the ladder…”
Although police officers and others were helping to hold the file cabinet, the legs of the ladder were starting to move.
He rolled the victim onto an air conditioner, before positioning her across his arms.
Just as their weight was about to cause the ladder to flip backward, the chief reached up and pushed his legs which enabled him to finish his descent.
Curley’s son and others reached up and took the woman from him.
“After being treated at the hospital for a deep laceration to my left cheek, minor lacerations to my lower back and scalp as well as minor burns to my fingertips, scalp and forearm, one of the nurses introduced me to the woman I rescued. The woman had a breathing tube in at the time but she did acknowledge my presence by nodding her head and her eyes began to tear…”
Curley said he didn’t realize the entire magnitude of the rescue until it was over. “At one point for a second or two, however, I thought my son was going to witness something very tragic…It was crazy, really crazy.”
He joined the Bellmore Fire Department at 14 as a junior member in 1983. Curley was an NYPD officer for four years before landing a job with the FDNY where he now coordinates work for the department's marine division.
“…This has been the most rewarding experience not only in my career, but my life.”