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FF Saves Man's Life On Aniversary of Fallen Comrades

New York Daily News via YellowBrix

July 18, 2011

QUEENS, NY – For ladder 163 in Woodside, Queens, the third weekend in June is always laden with emotion and remembrance as the fire company pays tribute to three firefighters killed in a blaze on Father’s Day, 2001.

This year, the memory of the dead was honored in the most fitting way: Ladder 163 Firefighter Thomas Adams rescued a man from a burning apartment and saved his life, on Father’s Day.

For his heroic actions on June 19, Adams, 29, is the Daily News Hero of the Month.

Adams, who joined the Fire Department three years ago, had attended the annual memorial Mass the day before at St. Sebastian’s Church in Woodside, in honor of the men who perished on June 17, 2001, in an Astoria hardware store: John Downing of Ladder 163, and Harry Ford and Brian Fahey of Rescue 4.

“I was an usher at the Mass,” said Adams. "It was beautiful. We had a great turnout.

“I met John’s [Downing’s] family …of course I had never met him. But hearing stories around the firehouse about John, I almost feel like I got to know him.

“He could represent any one of us or all of us in the firehouse,” added Adams.

That night was pretty routine, he said. He had the late house watch, monitoring the radio and computer.

At 4:45 a.m. on Sunday, at 60-05 44th Ave. in Woodside, a fire broke out on the second floor of the four-story building, believed to be caused by someone smoking in bed.

“We pulled up, and in the hallway you could smell fire,” Adams said. "Smoke was starting to come from the apartment door.

“We forced the door open; there was a lot of smoke and heat, and I masked up. Flames were rolling around the ceiling.

“I had the can position (carrying a small fire extinguisher) so I hit the ceiling with it, and crawled down the hallway, feeling with my hand.”

About 15 feet inside, he felt the victim, later identified as Patrick Brown, 46, who was unconscious.

“I called Captain [James] Hay to tell him I found a victim, and I started dragging him out,” Adams said. "The fire was starting to roll across the ceiling again.

“I dragged him to the front door.”

Hay administered oxygen and he and Firefighter James Pue helped Adams carry the 200-pound victim to the street.

“They got him breathing on the sidewalk and he was on oxygen on the way to hospital,” said Adams. “Then we went back in.”

Brown was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center.

It was Adam’s first save.

“Everything was a blur after that,” he said.

Later that day, at noon, Ladder 163 went to a small fire in an apartment in Jackson Heights.

Their members also went to the site of the 2001 Father’s Day fire, on Astoria Blvd., where three wreaths were laid, and black and purple bunting was put up and scores of firefighters stood in silence.

On that spot 10 years ago, two boys accidentally caused an explosion in the basement of a sprawling hardware store. The fire went to five alarms.

The three firefighters were killed in the basement, when the ground floor collapsed on them.

“It’s an empty lot now,” said Adams. “It’s eerie.”

Adams was raised on Long Island and lives in Queens.

He had wanted to be a firefighter as a kid, because his grandfather was a volunteer fireman.

Then he decided to become a teacher and got a history degree at Iona College.

“Then I put that aside and joined the FDNY,” he said.

His short time as a civil servant has seen proposed layoffs of teachers and firehouse closings, “so it’s been a little stressful,” he laughed.

But he grew serious when speaking of his rescue.

“We all thought it was special on the anniversary,” he said. “It seemed …a nice way to honor John and his memory.”