Eighteen firefighters and EMS workers who are either stationed or live in Queens were among those honored by the FDNY on April 14 during the department’s annual Medal Day held in Manhattan at the South Street Seaport.
All photos and citations are courtesy of the FDNY and its Medal Day book.
Squad 288 from Maspeth responded to a warehouse fire on a 14-degree morning on Jan. 21, 2019 to find the structure spewing thick black smoke — and to learn that one man had not made it out.
While two went in the front door, firefighters John McCoy and William Long were sent to look for a second entrance. Finding a door, they split up to conduct a search, with McCoy moving straight ahead. McCoy got a radio message informing him that a hose line in the basement was first losing pressure and had then stopped.
The heat was so intense McCoy’s thermal imaging camera went blank, leaving him zero visibility. Twenty feet inside he heard a man moaning. McCoy fought his way through piles of boxes before finding the man.
He was lifting the man over boxes and debris when the incident commander ordered all firefighters out of the building. He dragged the man out just as multiple explosions caused the door bay he used to collapse.
McCoy is the first-ever recipient of the Chief of Department Peter J. Gancey Medal for “the highest act of bravery.”
Smoke around the door frame
On Dec. 30, 2018, Ladder Co. 103 in Brooklyn answered an alarm at an attached two-family home. Frantic civilians told them people were trapped on the second floor.
Firefighter Robert Puckett, a Middle Village resident, went in as the forced entry man along with Capt. Daniel Florenco and Firefighter Peter Romano with an extinguisher. They made their way up to the second floor with the walls, ceiling and handrail on fire.
They came across a door with smoke being forced out from around the frame. With no hose line yet on the second floor, Puckett forced open the door and began a search while the others proceeded down the hallway.
Puckett found a woman unconscious and burned but alive. Florenco and Romano returned to help get her down the stairs and out to EMS personnel. Puckett was awarded the Walter Scott Medal for valor.
Trapped in the basement
Shortly before midnight on Feb. 24, 2019, Ladder Co. 157 in Brooklyn saw heavy smoke pouring from the basement window of a woodframe house — where a man told the responders his two girls were trapped in the basement.
Firefighter Timothy Brunton of Breezy Point headed to the rear of the house to access the basement with Capt. Damien Martin and Firefighter Dominick Muschello. An orange glow on a fence told them before they arrived that the rear of the house was engulfed. Brunton, using a manual extinguisher, forced his way through to the basement door. Searching in total darkness, he found the girls and kept them calm. With no hose coverage and fire cutting off his only avenue of retreat, Brunton located two small windows toward the front of the basement through which they were removed. Brunton was awarded the John H. Prentice Medal for an act of intelligent bravery. It was Brunton’s first decoration at the ceremony
Brunton and Lt. Victor Spadaro, of Belle Harbor and also with Ladder Co. 157, were among those responding to a six-story apartment building on Oct. 21, 2019.
They raced up to the burning apartment with firefighter Raymond Eger of Engine Co. 225, who kept the blaze in the kitchen at bay with an extinguisher while Spadaro and Brunton conducted a search. Heading down a hallway they meet up with Lt. Anthony Holz of Engine Co. 248, who was removing a toddler to safety. Entering a bedroom, Spadaro and Brunton split up. Encountering an overturned crib, Spadaro called Brunton for help moving it, allowing the lieutenant to find an unconscious woman. On his way back to help Spadaro, Brunton found a little girl. He got her to a hallway, handing her off to Firefighter Christopher Viviano. Brunton and Viviano both returned inside, where they and Eger helped Spadaro carry the woman out.
Spadaro was awarded the Thomas F. Dougherty Medal. Brunton received the Albert S. Johnston Medal.
A second victim
Firefighter Peter Haggerty of Rockaway Park was carrying the fire extinguisher for Ladder Co. 156’s inside team responding to a five-story apartment building in the morning of Dec. 12. 2018. As he, Lt. James Gervasi and Firefighter Paul Monahan prepared to force their way in, they learned two residents were still inside.
Haggerty attacked the fire in the kitchen, giving Gervasi and Monahan enough of a gap to get through and search back rooms. Upon expending all the water he began to search the adjacent living room.
He quickly found a woman who was unconscious and suffering from burns. As he was moving her he came across a second victim. Gervasi and Monahan rejoined him and they, along with another firefighter from Ladder 156, prepared to move them. Both had to be shielded from heat and flames as the narrow hallway would not allow operating fire hoses as the victims were being brought out.
For his determination, courage and skill, Haggerty was presented with the Ner Tamid Society/Franklin Delano Roosevelt Medal.
Paramedics Sylvia Martinez of Queens Village and Kimberly Verspoor were working in Jamaica on Feb. 21, 2019 when they were sent to a call from a person with chest pain and difficulty breathing.
Finding a locked door at 2:38 a.m. they required help from FDNY Engine 315 to gain access. They were still on the second floor when they encountered a resident in distress, as their carbon monoxide detectors registered a greatly elevated level — 500 parts per million — of the potentially lethal gas.
Leaving Verspoor to treat the victim, Martinez got to the third floor only to find CO levels of more than 900 ppm as she found the person who made the call summoning them.
Verspoor had rejoined Martinez on the third floor after handing the first patient off to an other EMS unit. They now had to get the man from the third floor out of the building quickly. Carrying him to the second floor through tight and cluttered quarters they got him into a stair chair for transport to a waiting ambulance.
Verspoor and Martinez accompanied the victims to the hospital, requiring medical evaluation themselves before returning to duty. Both received the EMT Tracy Allen-Lee Medal for FDNY and EMS personnel.
‘ ... multiple civilians inside ...’
Ladder Co. 138 was greeted by a grim site responding to a fire in the early-morning hours of July 29, 2019 — a woman hanging out of a fifth-floor window.
Firefighters Edwin Rodriguez and Joseph Zanca charged up to the fifth floor with Capt. John Speck, getting reports on the way that multiple people were trapped in the apartment.
Reaching the front room to locate the woman, Rodriguez and Zanca discovered she had been rescued by firefighters via 138’s aerial ladder.
Resuming their search Zanca found a man unconscious on a bed in the adjacent bedroom and got him out to the hallway and medical assistance. He died at a nearby hospital.
Rodriguez would find a man wedged between a bed and a dresser. He was able to get the man to the living room, where other firefighters assisted with the victim’s removal to EMS personnel outside. Zanca received the Holy Name Society Medal (Brooklyn/Queens). Rodriguez received the Chief Wesley Williams Medal.
Being dispatched to a call for an unconscious patient is not unusual for EMS personnel. Lt. Alicia Elkadi and Paramedic Dukens Jean Baptiste were heading to such a call on Jan. 21, 2019, when they received an additional transmission — “Be advised, possible multiple patients at location ... ”
Arriving at an apartment building in Queens, they were met by two adults and two children on the front steps, all of whom showed symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure. Jean Baptiste continued treating the patients while Elkadi went in, her CO alarm immediately triggering a warning for high levels of the poisonous gas. She continued into the building, notifying and evacuating approximately 20 people “prevent[ing] an even larger victim count, including potential loss of life.” Both received the Chief James Scullion Medal, named for a pioneer in the city’s EMS services.
Shelter in place
Lt. Michael Brady of Squad 270 in Richmond Hill was in the first unit to arrive at the scene of a house fire on the evening of March 22, 2019. He was heading up the stairs to scout out the best route to run hose lines when he learned that a woman and child were spotted at the windows at the front of the house on the top floor.
Arriving on the third floor Brady was greeted by heavy smoke. He had to make his way past the fire in the kitchen area to get back to the front of the house.
Reaching the front bedroom he found the woman and the young child. Brady moved both to the windows and was joined by Lt. Travis Gallagher of Engine 308 in South Richmond Hill. After venting the windows they discovered a burning mattress in the room. Gallagher pulled it outside and came back, closing the door behind him.
Brady and Gallagher realized they needed to shelter in place until help arrived, and had to keep the panicked victims calm.
Soon the inside team from Ladder Co. 126 in Jamaica came through the door while its aerial ladder reached the window to receive the victims. Brady was awarded the Uniformed Fire Officers Association Medal.
With fire on the seventh floor of an apartment building, Ladder Co. 127 of Jamaica knew water would be delayed as members groped through the darkness. Finding the door, Firefighter Christopher Morrissey searched to the left and Robert Wassmer to the right.
Working his way down a hallway, Morrissey came to a door he could open only a few inches, with something blocking it from the other side. Forcing his way in he realized it was an unconscious woman. Wassmer came to help, forced to take the door off its hinges because of the clutter and deteriorating conditions. Morrissey was able to get the woman out of the apartment as Wassmer tried to shield them. Morrissey got her down the hall unguided before he and Wassmer could carry her down to the sixth floor and medical attention. Morrissey received the Fire Chiefs Association Memorial Medal.
One way out
By the time Ladder 126 of Jamaica responded to a house fire on Jan. 23, 2019, the home was engulfed from the first floor to the attic, and had spread to adjoining homes.
Until a hose line could be established, the only way in was a small second-floor bathroom window where Terence McSweeney had forced his way in. But finding an unconscious victim who was too big to go out the window, McSweeney radioed that the fully engulfed hallway and main staircase now were their only way out. Engine 275 forced the fire back and with help from a firefighter from Ladder 133, McSweeney got the man out. He was awarded the Community Mayors for Special Children/Lt. Robert R. Donley Medal.
Working as a dispatcher on Feb. 7, 2019, EMT David Ansu, a Queens resident, sent an ambulance to a call for someone with difficulty breathing, but also decided something was not quite right with the call. He asked the NYPD to send backup for a possible assault case.
Arriving at the apartment the EMS crew found a father and two small children; one of whom mouthed “Help me” when his father’s back was turned. They told responding police officers, who tried to speak with the children, but were denied.
An NYPD Emergency Services Unit was sent, and found the apartment empty. Police learned the children, suffering from bruises, were left at their mother’s home a few blocks away. Ansu, credited with possibly saving the children from greater harm, was given the Lieutenant Kirby McElhearn Medal.
Children in the water
Firefighters from Ladder Co. 121 and Engine Co. 265 in Far Rockaway were heading to Arverne just before 8 p.m. on July 30, 2019, when they got a call of possible drowning victims at Beach 59th Street.
Firefighter James Hayden, detailed to Ladder 121, was the designated rescue swimmer on the night tour. While Engine Co. 265 is not designated as a water rescue unit, Firefighter Brian Levings, an experienced lifeguard, was on duty. Two boys could be seen from shore. Hayden and Levings were running out of daylight as they charged into the ocean, fighting high winds, 10-foot waves and rip currents.
They were guided from the shore, as they were unable to see the boys or judge how far they had to swim. One boy was seen to go under and not resurface.
The other boy was face up and unresponsive as help arrived. After getting him to shore and the care of EMS personnel Hayden and Levings went back out in search of the second boy for 30 minutes until ordered to return to the beach. Hayden, of Belle Harbor, received the Fire Bell Club Medal. Levings received the Dr. John F. Connell Medal.
Ladder Co. 167 from Flushing was returning to quarters on Jan. 15, 2019 when a call came for a structure fire on Bell Boulevard near 53rd Street, only blocks away.
With heavy fire already billowing out of a second-floor window, Lt. Otto Rodriguez’s inside team forced open both the door to the main entrance and another to a fully engulfed apartment, but had to retreat until a hose line brought water.
Once inside under punishing conditions, Rodriguez found an unconscious woman in a bedroom. Firefighter Todd Neckin brought the woman to the street while Rodriguez and Firefighter William Hothan continued their search. Rodriguez found an unconscious man in a second bedroom. The rescue was more complicated, requiring five firefighters to maneuver the man out of the building. Both victims would die at a nearby hospital.
Rodriguez received the Firefighter Kevin C. Kane Medal.