By Jonathan Bandler Democrat and Chronicle
Ryan Blackwell realized his dream of following in his father’s footsteps when he became a New York City firefighter this year. And four months after graduating, the Brewster resident had a rare opportunity for a rookie to be a hero.
Blackwell rescued a 54-year-old Bronx woman from a fatal apartment fire just after dawn Saturday, discovering her on the floor of a smoke-filled hallway after keeping the fire at bay.
“My nerves really kicked in afterwards. It was like, ‘Holy Cow! I just did that!'” Blackwell, 25, said in a phone interview Sunday. “It’s exciting. Made a difference, you know.”
Blackwell’s father, Christopher, was a decorated member of Rescue 3 who was killed on 9/11. As soon as he became old enough, Ryan became a volunteer with the Putnam Lake Fire Department and waited for his opportunity to join the FDNY.
Like most rookies, Blackwell is assigned to an engine company and spends most of his time handling the hoses at fire scenes. But on Saturday he was working an overnight shift with Ladder 32, so when the call came in about a fire on the fifth floor at 2705 Colden Ave., he was among the crew that went into the building.
He said he was in particularly good — and motivating — company. Capt. Patrick Tracy was his training captain at the Fire Academy and two others, Vincent Musacchio and Sean O’Donnell, were also among his instructors there.
When they got to the building, they reached the apartment and Musacchio, who lives in Yorktown, knocked the door down. The fire had begun in the kitchen and was moving into the hallway, and the firefighters encountered heavy heat and zero visibility.
Blackwell pushed the fire back into the kitchen with an extinguisher. He got the go-ahead to continue because they believed people were inside, so he began feeling his way down the hallway.
“I felt there was something there, and felt a little more and that’s when I found her,” he said. “I just did what I’m supposed to do.”
He dragged the unconscious woman down the hallway and out the apartment where the others helped get her downstairs.
Musacchio then found the woman’s son in a bedroom.
Both victims were taken to Jacobi Medical Center. The son, 23-year-old Jose Boldonado, later died from his injuries. According to published reports, he was disabled and used a wheelchair.
The mother was in critical condition.
“I didn’t do this by myself. Everybody had a part of this,” Blackwell said. “I hope it works out for the best for this woman. … It’s nice to know that I helped her.”
He said he saw no significance to the rescue coming just days after September 11, that Saturday was just another day on the job.
His father was his inspiration, and on his left arm, Blackwell has a tattoo of an FDNY badge with his dad’s badge number. But what he got from his dad were life lessons, not the particulars that he picked up in training that helped him Saturday morning.
“He would teach me to do the right thing,” Blackwell said. “He just wanted me to follow my dreams.”