Firefighter James Denniston, Engine 285, spent three months in Afghanistan as part of the 101st Rescue Squadron as part of the New York Air National Guard, and on his first tour back in his Queens firehouse, he was part of a team that rescued four people from an all-hands fire.
“It was a humbling experience for me to be back and part of such a good team,” he said.
Just before 8 a.m. on March 16, firefighters were called to Rockaway Boulevard and 110th Street for a fire on the top floor of a three-story building.
When the members of Engine 285 – including Lt. Brian Santosus, and Firefighters Richard Faraci, Dennis O’Keefe, Jean Tanis and Denniston – arrived, he said they saw people hanging out the windows.
Firefighter Denniston said once the first hoseline was in operation in the front of the building, he and the other members of his company immediately turned their attention to the victims.
Firefighter Tanis got a ladder and rescued two people from the third floor. Firefighters Denniston and O’Keefe then grabbed a 24-foot ladder, and while Firefighter O’Keefe went up and helped a woman from the third floor, while Firefighter Denniston grabbed a smaller ladder and removed someone from the second floor.
“There was a good smoke condition out the windows and people most certainly were panicked,” he said.
He added that the experience, which is unusual for any firefighter who works on in an engine company (who normally focuses on extinguishing the fire rather than rescues), let alone on his first tour back at the firehouse, was overwhelming.
“It was the last thing I expected,” he said. “It wasn’t something that when I went to work after being away for a while I thought would happen. But I can’t say enough good things about [Lt. Santosus and Firefighters Faraci, O’Keefe, and Tanis]. They’re great firemen across the board. Their split second moves saved these people.”