On April 15th, 2004, at 0848 Hours, the crew of Ladder 51 was turned out for a phone alarm reporting a fire in a private dwelling at 3615 Dereimer Avenue – only a few blocks away from the firehouse. As they made the turn onto Boston Road they could see a column of smoke rising up from the area, and everyone on the truck figured they might be going to work. Their suspicions were confirmed when the dispatcher announced receiving multiple calls for the box – and that there were reports of people trapped. Engine 38 then transmitted the “10-75” for a fire in a 40 x 60 peaked-roof private dwelling.
As L-51 arrived on scene, heavy fire was venting from all the windows on the right side of the house. 12-year Firefighter Rodney DeCuffa, along with Firefighter Mark Schweighart and Lieutenant William McGee, entered through the front door of the building, where they were immediately met 10 feet in by an open doorway on the right with fire rolling out the top. While Firefighter Schweighart used an extinguisher to hold the fire at bay, Lt. McGee and Firefighter DeCuffa hugged the left wall past the fire and continued down the hallway. Searching in high heat and zero visibility, Firefighter DeCuffa was able to find a bookcase that he pushed in front of the open doorway to slow the spread of fire and buy more time to search. After then rejoining Lt. McGee, DeCuffa found a door to a bedroom on the left where they believed people might be trapped. As DeCuffa checked behind the bedroom door, Lt. McGee checked to the left and located Susan Jackson, and together they dragged her down the hallway and out the front door.
With reports coming in of fire in the basement, a 2nd Alarm was transmitted for the box. Knowing that time was running out for anyone still trapped inside, Firefighter DeCuffa, without the protection of a hose line and with complete disregard for his own safety, re-entered the building and again passed the fire in search of victims. Re-entering the bedroom, he swept the floor and located 13-yr-old Marcus Jackson next to the bed. Using his body as a shield, he carried the victim down the front hallway and past the fire room, where Engine 38 had now arrived and was just beginning to push back the fire. As he removed the victim down the front steps of the residence, he slipped and fell, injuring his back and neck. Undeterred, Firefighter DeCuffa entered the building a third time and began searching for a third child that was reported as still missing. As he reached the bedroom again, Magdalia Jackson, age 3, was being removed via the bedroom window by E-51 Firefighter Wacha.
Firefighter DeCuffa performed two rescues and attempted a third at great personal risk by putting himself in harm’s way without the protection of a hose line. It is for these exemplary actions that he should be recognized as being one of the best of the best.