The Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award, presented by the Fire Engineering Courage and Valor Foundation, commemorates the life and career achievements of Deputy Chief Ray Downey, chief of rescue operations and 39-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Meet this year’s nominees for the award, which is presented annually at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Firefighter Brian Moritz, Fire Department of New York. He has been a member of the fire service for six years.
Comment: “Firefighter Brian Moritz performed with great personal risk to his safety. Realizing that time was a crucial factor, he set up a series of ladders to use without knowing whether or not they were in proper working order. He set one of those ladders onto a small surface, eight feet off the ground, without knowing if they would be able to withstand the weight. The ladders were also set at an extreme climbing angle without their being butted or spiked. Additionally, he worked above the fire, under extreme heat, with zero visibility, and without the protection of a handline to save an unconscious victim from an almost certain death.” Salvatore Cirami, Ladder 138, FDNY.
On June 27, 2009 at 0918 hours, Ladder 138 was assigned to respond to a building fire, with reported jumpers in the rear in the Elmhurst section of Queens, New York. Normally, the second-due truck, Ladder 138, was the only truck assigned on the initial response. After their arrival at the building, Moritz, who was assigned the outside vent position, began his perimeter survey. On reaching the rear of the building, Moritz was confronted with a distraught civilian lying on the top of a small setback over the first floor. The civilian was screaming that her husband was trapped in their attic apartment. Moritz, now confronted with a known life hazard, realized that too much valuable time would be wasted if he were to return to the street and retrieve a portable ladder from Ladder 138.
With great personal risk, he decided to use civilian ladders that were on-site. With no hesitation, and with no assurances of the stability of the ladders, Moritz climbed up on top of the small setback, calmed down the hysterical woman, pulled a second ladder up onto the setback, and ascended the ladder up to the attic window, passing the flames emanating from the second-floor windows. On reaching the attic window, Moritz was confronted with high heat and thick black smoke. He donned his SCBA and entered the attic without the protection of a hoseline. Searching the attic alone, he found a 250-pound victim lying unconscious and immediately transmitted to his superiors that he had found a victim. Knowing he was still operating alone, Moritz decided that the best way to remove the victim was to find the interior stairs and bring him down. The second-due ladder company assisted Moritz in carrying the victim down to the street, where he was turned over to EMS.
The victim was treated at the hospital for burns and smoke inhalation; he required an endotracheal tube for seven days. The fire conditions were such that the couple’s two pet dogs perished in the fire.
MARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.