QUEENS, NY - While firefighters battled the fire on the first floor of John Russo's Queens home on Sept. 1, he was pulled from the second floor. He was unconscious and badly burned.
He spent two months recovering from his injuries in the Burn Center at New York Presbyterian, but the day he was released, there was only one place he wanted to go - to his local firehouse to thank the firefighters who saved his life.
And Nov. 17, he, his mother and brother visited the quarters of Engine 285 and Ladder 142 to simply say thanks.
"[Firefighters] are great," Mr. Russo said. "They're the hardest working people in the world. I wouldn't do that job if you paid me."
Members from across the area stopped by the firehouse to wish the Russo family well.
"We were just lucky that on that day, everything worked out," said Firefighter Ed Rissland from Ladder 142, who is credited with saving Mr. Russo's life.
At around 3:35 p.m. on Sept. 1, firefighters responded to a call on 109th Avenue. They remember it was a beautiful, clear day, and they were just recovering from the whirlwind of work they had in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
Firefighter Rissland was driving the apparatus to the scene, said they encountered heavy fire conditions in the kitchen and rear rooms on the first floor and extending to the second floor of the two-story residence.
He parked the rig as close to the residence as he could. Then, as members of Engine 285 stretched the hose line to extinguish the fire, Firefighter Rissland put a ladder up to the second floor window and began to search. He said he stayed low due to the extreme heat and smoke, as he searched a bedroom.
When he did not find anyone during the search, he moved down the hallway and into a second bedroom. It was there he found Mr. Russo lying beside the bed.
Mr. Russo said he remembers being in his bedroom on the second floor and smelling smoke. He said he stood up, covered his nose and mouth with his sleeve, then lost consciousness.
Firefighter Rissland radioed for help. He was joined by Firefighters Chris Magas and Daniel Gunning, both from Ladder 142, and they carried the man downstairs and out approximately 50 feet to the street.
There they were met by members from Engine 293, who provided the victim with rescue breathing and tried to get the airway open as EMS members arrived on scene.
"It is a great feeling to see him here today," said Firefighter Scott Discepolo from Engine 293. "Anyone could have done this, but I was happy to have been able to help."
Firefighter Rissland concurred, "To have them here is amazing. It's the greatest experience I've had in my 20 years here."
He was transported to Jamaica Hospital and, when stable, was moved to New York Presbyterian. He sustained second and third degree burns and smoke inhalation.
"This is what we do, day in and day out," said Lt. Edward Mullen from Ladder 142. "It was a great heroic effort."
Florence Russo, John's mother, agreed, "I can't thank these firefighters enough. Words can't describe how wonderful they are. I'll never be able to repay them for what they've done for me."
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