By Sarah Dorsey Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York
A harrowing rescue in a 2010 Brooklyn brownstone fire sent Firefighter Peter G. Demontreux last week on a call far outside his usual territory, when he became the first FDNY member to receive the Medal of Valor, the nation’s highest honor for public-safety officers.
Mr. Demontreux, an 11-year department veteran, was honored Feb. 20 in Washington by Vice President Joseph Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder, along with 17 other recipients from around the country.
‘Humbled’ by Others’ Deeds
“I’m very proud of it,” the Firefighter said. “I’m very lucky to be a part of it.”
But he found it “kinda humbling” to hear the deeds of the other winners, four of whom died in the line of duty. “They went through everybody’s story and some were really intense,” he said. “It’s pretty heart-wrenching.”
Mr. Demontreux’s actions in that Clinton Hill, Brooklyn brownstone on Aug. 30, 2010 were themselves humbling.
When his Ladder Company 132 truck pulled up to 175 Putnam Ave. around 4 a.m., fire had already engulfed the front door and stairwell. He was told it was some kind of “gang thing”—someone had poured gasoline all the way up the stairwell.
“They were trying to kill someone that night,” he said.
But the intended victim reportedly wasn’t home. Instead, 60-year-old Henri Howell was standing at the third-floor window, trapped by the dense smoke all around him.
When Mr. Demontreux pulled Mr. Howell onto the ladder his company’s chauffeur had extended, he said his friend was trapped inside, in a back room.
‘Everything Lit Up’
The engine company putting out the flames was a floor below, fighting back the raging fire in the stairwell, so the heat and smoke on the third floor was still intense and getting worse. Mr. Demontreux entered the front room, but was pushed back to the window by the elements. After Rescue 2 Firefighter Richard Myers vented the adjacent third-floor window, releasing some heat and smoke, Mr. Demontreux pushed forward again.
“Before I entered it was heavy black smoke, and [intense heat], I could start to feel it through my gear,” he recalled. “The guy was hollering in the back of the building.”
Mr. Demontreux locked arms with the second victim, 51-year-old Clyde Mantany, who was standing in the back bedroom with his body half out of the window, trying to escape the smoke. He pulled him along until they reached the front room.
At that point, “everything lit up,” said Mr. Demontreux.
He and the victim were engulfed, with flames burning through Mr. Demontreux’s gear and covering his face and back. He helped Mr. Mantany out of the window, and a second engine company doused both of them with water.
‘Best Rescue in 30 Years’
Mr. Mantany was placed in a medically-induced coma for a month, with burns covering more than 50 percent of his body, but he survived. Mr. Demontreux suffered second-degree burns on his back and first-degree burns on his face.
“I certainly won’t say that I wasn’t scared, but it happened very fast,” he said. “It was kind of like I just had to do it. I didn’t have time to think about it.”
That quick action earned him several local awards, including the FDNY’s highest honor, the James Gordon Bennett Medal, given for the most outstanding act of heroism each year.
Uniformed Firefighters Association President Stephen J. Cassidy, who recommended the Medal of Valor nomination, applauded Mr. Demontreux’s win, calling him “a very humble guy.”
One of the FDNY’s top chiefs told Mr. Cassidy it might’ve been the best rescue in the last 30 years.
“He literally was completely engulfed in flames. You can tell by the burn marks to his bunker gear that he was in heat over 1,000 degrees,” Mr. Cassidy said. “He went through those flames to someone who was trapped…and saved their life.”