FDNY Firefighter Recalls Rescue from Hoarded Apartment

Firehouse.com is sharing in-depth stories from several of the 2013 Firehouse Heroism Award winners. Check back for additional profiles and find the full list of 2013 award winners here.

"This is what you sign up to do. You always wonder if it'll happen, you know?"

That's what FDNY Firefighter Eugene Squires said about the harrowing rescue of a woman that earned him a 2013 Firehouse Heroism Award.

Responding from the same firehouse, Engine 22 and Ladder 13 arrived just after 1 a.m. and encountered heavy black smoke coming from the rear of the five-story apartment building.

Squires ran up the stairs to the fifth floor with Lt. Robert Allen and Firefighter Harry Callahan. 

"People were coming down and upset. You could smell the smoke. You knew you had something."

There was heavy black smoke pushing from around the apartment as Callahan, who was assigned to the irons position, forced the door open. 

That's when they realized they had to get inside right away. 

"The night security chain was still in tact so we knew we had somebody in there."

But trouble was waiting right behind the door in the way of debris. Lots of debris, including a queen size bed and several cabinets.

"It was a Collyer's Mansion (hoarding conditions) inside that place. We could only get the door open a few inches."

Squires was the smallest of the three and started to crawl over the debris to conduct a search.

At the same time, the firefighter assigned to the perform ventilation looked over the roof and saw a woman screaming for help.

The crew on the roof was setting up their ropes for a rescue effort from above, but the small window would prevent the rescue from happening.

Squires crawled over the debris toward's the woman's location as he encountered heavy heat and smoke. 

"I didn't want to spend one more second in that apartment," the 12-year FDNY veteran recalled. "It was just really bad. A real nasty fire."

As he made his way into the apartment, Lt. Allen and Callahan started pulling debris out of the apartment and into the hallway for Squires' escape path.

He made his way to the bathroom where he grabbed the woman as she was trying to jump from the window. He pulled her down and started to bring her back to the front door as fire was rolling along the ceiling, just a few feet above the two.

As they got closer to the front door, Callahan crawled into the apartment and helped Squires carry her out.

"Fire was rolling over our head and out the door into the hallway" he remembered.

In the 15 seconds it took the three members of Ladder 13 to drag her to safety in the stairwell, the entire apartment was engulfed in flames and fire was engulfing the hallway.

"I'm just glad I was in the right place at the right time," he said. "I gave her a shot to survive."

Squires said the teamwork of the first companies made things go smoothly. 

"Because of (Engine) 22 and (Ladder) 13 this lady can live another day."

This wasn't the first time Squires was involved in a rescue.

In May 2008, his station was first-due when a crane collapsed and damaged several apartment buildings. His crew rescued several people from the collapse debris.