Inside a fire rescue on Oliver Street in Bay Ridge

The calls began coming in at 8:22 a.m. on Tuesday, January 7, the coldest day seen in years: fire, on the third floor of 15 Oliver Street, a multiple-residence dwelling near the Bay Ridge waterfront.

The first unit on the scene was from Engine 242, “Guardian of the Narrows,” located mere blocks away at 9219 Fifth Avenue. FDNY Lieutenant Christopher Zam was the first firefighter into the building and what he saw and experienced next was something the 13-year veteran says he will always carry with him.

“I was headed down to the courtyard, got to the front entrance, and noticed one of the occupants was coming out of the window to the fire escape. That bumps it up [in my mind] to know it’s something [bad],” said Zam. “By the time I got to the second floor staircase, it was all smoke [and] the door was left open to some extent by the wife, who had gotten out but was calling out: ‘Please help my husband! My husband is still in there.’”

At that point, Zam radioed a 10-75, meaning “working fire/emergency confirmed,” and began directing the water hose line from the “nozzle man” outside, but ended up having to enter the apartment without it, in spite of typical safety precautions, since “there was a ‘known life hazard,’ which takes priority over anything.”

With “zero visibility at the door,” Zam crawled down the apartment hallway, noticing a heavy amount of fire coming out of the kitchen area and continuing on to find the bedrooms. On his return trip from the back of the apartment, he suddenly heard a cough and found the woman’s husband sitting on the bed, immobile and unresponsive to his attempts to get him to get onto the floor.

“I was instructing him to come with me, get low, and he wasn’t responding. So I grabbed him by the arm, pulled him to floor level to get beneath the smoke as best we could, and brought him out to hallway area by his arm and belt,” Zam recounted.

“Within 10 feet of the door, another fireman, from Ladder 109—Mike Guidera—arrived and realized I needed a hand, and helped me drag him into the hallway. Then Christopher Lorenzo from L109 helped us take him out of the DLAH (dangerous to life and health) atmosphere,” where Emergency Medical Services (EMS) took over.

“The hose line was in place at the door and we still had a fire to put out,” he explained matter-of-factly.

Upon seeing her husband, “the wife was partially in shock and obviously very relieved.” The couple, who are in their 60s or 70s, were taken to Lutheran Medical Center for treatment and evaluation with non-life-threatening injuries.

FDNY Lieutenant Christopher Zam. (Photo courtesy of FDNY)

One week later, the pungent odor of smoke still permeates the third floor hallway at 15 Oliver Street. The building and apartments are intact, smoke and water damage are being reported to insurance carriers, and residents in need of a place to stay have been directed to the Red Cross.

Recounting the events of that Tuesday morning, Zam says he feels “exhilarated” and “great that it was a great team effort” by firefighters and EMS alike.

“EMS is another component of the department, and they handled the patient care quickly and efficiently,” he said. “They don’t get enough credit.”

“We go through a ton of training at Randall’s Island. It’s nice when it pays off when you have something like this and are able to help someone in that movie sort of way,” he continued. “I have helped victims out of fires before from smoke explosions or poor visibility in stairwells, but nothing where I actively had to go past fire without hose line.

“Considering the freezing conditions and concern about frozen hydrants, [it went well and] was all teamwork,” he explained. “I happened to be the one to make the discovery during the search [but] in general, there’s a confidence built in because you know you have support and everyone’s up to the task, even in adverse conditions. . . It made me feel good about the job in general, satisfied that the training I’ve gotten over the years helped somebody.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.