Indianapolis, IN (April 20, 2016) – Firefighter Jason Rivera, an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a member of the New Haven (CT) Fire Department, was awarded the 2016 Ray Downey Courage & Valor Award at Wednesday’s Opening Session. Robert Biolchini, chairman of the board, PennWell Corp., presented the award. Fire Department of New York Battalion Chiefs Joe and Chuck Downey, sons of Ray Downey; Ron Siarnicki, executive director, National Fallen Firefighter Foundation; Chief Ron Kanterman, National Fire Academy Alumni Association; and Bobby Halton, Fire Engineering editor in chief / FDIC education director, also members of the Selection Committee, participated in the ceremony.
Just past midnight on March 1, 2015, Firefighter (FF) Jason Rivera responded with other units to a working fire in a 2½-story balloon-frame, wood dwelling. He was assigned to the pipe position.
The call was for a reported structure fire, approximately 500 yards from Engine 6’s quarters, which allowed for a quick response. However, Truck 4, which responds from the same station, was already out at an alarm and would be responding from a district away, delaying the first-due truck significantly. This factor also delayed placement of the second-due engine, as it had to stage on the snow-covered street until the truck arrived.
On arrival, Engine 6 transmitted a working fire in a 2½-story balloon frame, wood dwelling with fire venting from the second-floor windows and out the front right door (duplex). The fire burned down the stairs. One of the occupants had propped open the door with a shopping cart, creating a flow path. The stairs were on fire from top to bottom. Lt. Herschel Wadley continued his size-up and ordered a 1¾-inch handline to the second floor. At this time, a report of a trapped victim was relayed as Engine 6 began a rapid deployment and an aggressive attack.
Since Truck 4 was delayed, engine companies were assigned the primary search. FF Rivera began to control the stairs and made a push under high heat and zero visibility. On the way up the stairs to the second floor, they were met with heavy hoarding conditions and a well-involved structure fire. Engine 6 began attacking fire and was making headway. At this time, the firefighter assigned to the hydrant radioed that the hydrant was frozen and an alternative water source was needed. Engine 9 quickly backed to Engine 6 and laid hose to a secondary water supply. During this time, the attack team was thinking about the life safety of the victim and knew that survival would be predicated on maximizing the 500-gallon tank on the engine while the relay was established.
FF Rivera continued to push in and extinguish heavy fire until his attack line became hung up at the coupling. Lt. Wadley asked FF Rivera to try to hold his position while he attempted to correct the hoseline issue. Having a hand tool and knowing that Engine 4’s crew was attempting to gain access to the third-floor stairs where the victim was thought to be, FF Rivera, still alone in zero visibility with high heat pushing down on him, breached the wall from the living room to the kitchen. He alternated playing the line into the hole and in front of him into the heavily involved kitchen. He managed his tank water and held his position despite the fact that his body was being burned.
His actions made the Charlie side of the structure more tenable for Engine 4 to perform the primary search. Engine 4 made the stairs in the rear to the third floor and quickly located an unresponsive male. They moved the victim to the rear yard, where they had to negotiate a fence and deep snow. Because of the conditions, Capt. Celentano had the squad and Engine 4 crew pick up the victim and place him over his shoulders; he delivered the victim to the awaiting EMS crews. While Engine 4 moved the victim around the structure, Engine 6 completely ran out of water. FF Rivera backed down to the bottom of the stairs; when water was reestablished, he and his crew made an aggressive push on the second floor.
After their self-contained breathing apparatus ran out of air, FF Rivera reported out with Lt. Wadley. That’s when FF Rivera realized he had unbearable pain. When he removed his bunker pants, he discovered that his knees and shins were shedding and blistering. He notified Lt. Wadley and was evaluated by EMS. He was transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital and then transferred to the Bridgeport Yale Hospital Burn unit. He had second-degree burns on his waist and wrists and third-degree burns on both of his legs that necessitated skin grafts and surgery.
The fire conditions and the lack of water would have led many salty firefighters to knock down as much fire as possible and then back down until a positive water source was established. FF Rivera operated in high heat while conserving water to ensure the rescue could be completed. The hoarding conditions prevented him from completely extinguishing the fire in the area in which he was kneeling; he continued to crawl attempting to free the line. His breaching the wall demonstrated that despite the fact that his body was burned, he kept his composure and quickly evaluated the need for action. FF Rivera has recovered from his burns and has since returned to work.