Firefighter Ronald Soltysik had just taken up from a previous box when at 2050 a phone alarm was transmitted over their MDT reporting a fire at 61-15 97th Street. L-136 was assigned first due. Battalion 46 was first to arrive and Chief Robert McBride transmitted a 10-75 for numerous civilians self evacuating due to heavy smoke in a public hallway. The building is a 15 story irregular fireproof multiple dwelling. L-136 arrived shortly thereafter and ahead of the first due engine. Upon entering the building, L-136 determined the fire apartment to be LB on the first floor. The building contains multiple apartments and is irregular in shape. The hallways are narrow and wings separated from the main building by an exterior “breezeway” on each floor.
L-136 was met by black acrid smoke from around the apartment door. L-136 donned their face pieces and was preparing to force entry into apartment LB. At this point the occupants of apartment LC began self evacuating into the tight smoky hallway. Forcible entry was halted and the members of L-136’s inside team assisted them to safety in the outdoor breezeway.
Now back at the door, FF Ron Soltysik assigned L-136 forcible entry man, encountered a door with three locks. Requiring the need for help, FF Soltysik called for FF Swailes to assist. They began forcing the locks when FF. Soltysik noticed that a chain lock was engaged from inside the apartment. Knowing that the person who engaged the lock was likely still in the apartment, FF Soltysik notified his officer, Lt. Keenan, and all members of his findings. Thick black and superheated smoke was being drawn into the breezeway. With no line in place, L-136 would have normally maintained the door in the closed position and waited for the line. Knowing that the lock was engaged from the inside and the likelihood that there were civilians trapped inside, Lt. Keenan made the decision that the only chance anybody had was for them to make entry and search. So without the protection of a hoseline, L-136 entered the apartment. Conditions in the apartment made searching complicated. The inside team was met by Colliers mansion type conditions and made it impossible to maintain a point of reference with the apartment walls. The visibility was zero and a high heat condition was encountered.
With conditions very poor, FF Soltysik conducted a rapid search of the apartment. He came upon an unconscious male victim weighing over five hundred pounds lying face down naked. FF Soltysik determined that the victim might not be breathing or had poor undetectable respirations. FF Soltysik notified his officer and Lt. Keenan transmitted a 10-45 advising the battalion that help would be needed in effecting the rescue due to victims size and conditions in the apartment. While holding back the fire with his can, it was decided FF Swailes was needed to help remove the victim. Soltysik, Keenan and Swailes made several attempts to remove the victim. They were not successful due to the tight hallway and since the victim was naked, they had nothing to grab.
With fire now entering the living room, FF Soltysik crawled over the victim and straddled him. He then used tubular webbing and with great effort secured it around the victim’s torso. FF Soltysik with the assistance of Lt. Keenan and FF Swailes dragged the victim through the hallway into the direction of the apartment door. There they were met by E-324 who were beginning to advance their hoseline. This had to stop to allow FF Soltysik to remove the victim to the breezeway. Removal of the victim included the help of several companies including TL-138, Rescue 4 and Squad 288.
George Corbett, a 40-year-old MTA worker, was transported to North Shore Hospital Forest Hills and ultimately to New York Hospital Cornell Burn Center where he was treated for respiratory burns and carbon monoxide poisoning. FF Soltysik showed great courage, knowledge and poise in performing his duties. L-136 worked together as a team in effectively removing the unconscious victim in extreme conditions. Mr. Corbett is alive today thanks to the efforts of FF Soltysik and the members of L-136.