On November 22nd, 2003, the early morning quiet of the city was interrupted at 1:14 a.m. by a report of a working structure fire in a 3-story multiple dwelling at 144-63 35th Avenue. As Engine 273 and Ladder 129 arrived at the box, they were met in the street by a frantic man with burns to his face who was shouting that his family was trapped on the third floor of the residence. Lieutenant Pete Antine of Ladder 129 immediately directed his forcible entry team up to the locked entry door on the 2nd floor in order to attempt a rescue. As the door was forced open, the crew was met with a heavy fire condition that continued up the stairs to the third floor.
At the same time, the outside team of Ladder 129 was attempting to enter the building via the rear fire escape. As they ascended, they were met by a young man coming down the fire escape screaming that his family was trapped on the third floor. Out in the street, Firefighter Ercolano, assigned as E-273 Chauffer for the tour, was in the process of connecting to a hydrant and charging the first hose line.
As the Engine began working to extinguish the fire, L-129’s forcible-entry team of Firefighter Kevin Kustka and Firefighter John Walis pushed past 273’s line to attempt a search of the third floor that was still involved with fire. Firefighter Kustka moved forward into the front of the apartment and discovered 6-yr-old Adrianna Mendrinos, burned and unconscious, and after transmitting a “10-45” attempted to bring her down past the heat and flames. Hearing Kustka’s 10-45, E-273 Captain William Bonasera began moving in Kustka’s direction. Before he could reach Kustka however, he came across 3-yr-old Konstantine Mendrinos, burned and not breathing, and rescued him by breaking out the front window and taking him down 129’s aerial ladder. He was met by Firefighter Ercolano, who immediately began CPR on the child.
L-129 Firefighter Kevin Moran had also heard Firefighter Kustka’s 10-45 transmission, and was also working his way to the front of the building when he came across 62-yr-old Eleni Sotiradis, also burned and unconscious, and transmitted a 10-45 as well. He was soon joined by Firefighter Walis and L-129 Firefighter Steven Syrop, who helped Firefighter Moran carry Ms. Sotiradis to the street and begin CPR.
If not for the quick thinking, skills and teamwork of these firefighters, the outcome of this fire could have been tragic. Instead, because of their professionalism and courage, three people are still alive and well.