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.
Sergeant Javish A. Collazo, Puerto Rico Fire Department. He has been a member of the fire service for 12 years.
Comment: “Conducting this operation, Sgt. Collazo has demonstrated an exceptional high degree of professional excellence, knowledge, skill, and dedication to duty and willingness to assist in any capacity.” Gilbert J. Lopez in nomination comments.
On October 23, 2009, at 12:30 a.m., Sergeant. Collazo was awakened and shaken by the explosion at the Gulf Gasoline Facility, the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation. He donned his bunker gear and headed to the highway, where he noticed that automobiles were turning around in the same lane. He directed traffic, diverting the cars away from the explosion and fire until the police arrived and took charge of the traffic and closed the highway. Collazo promptly arrived at the scene of the fire and was one of the first 12 responders to arrive. Collazo reported his presence to the firefighter in charge.
Seeing the magnitude of the fire and not knowing its cause made the responders wary of how to proceed. Collazo promptly united those firefighters and directed this first response group. He encouraged them as they fought this type of fire, which they had never seen before. Massive clouds of toxic smoke and heat from the fire confused Collazo himself for several minutes. He then gathered the firefighters, took charge, and directed the extinguishment operations.
His size-up had shown that the greatest danger was presented by Bunker C area, which included gasoline tanks that were near the fire and were beginning to heat up. He instructed the firefighters to cool off with foam the retention dam that was on fire and that was heating up the area gasoline tanks as well as the Bunker C tanks. Collazo knew that the first response group had to take immediate actions to prevent the fire from reaching more tanks and threatening the lives of the residents in the area.
He intentionally placed himself in an extremely dangerous situation during the first hours of the fire, for he could not let his men alone until the Fire Extinction Chief and more engines arrived from various stations, He worked for about 14 hours on-scene and maintained contact with the safety officer until the last burning storage tank fire had been extinguished. The Puerto Rico Fire Department extinguished the fire in three days.
A few days later, it was determined that Collazo had implemented the correct tactics at the beginning of the incident. The valve of the tank was open and was flowing gasoline a 7,200 gallons per minute. The explosion as caused after a transfer overfilling action made from sea. Gases accumulated, and the underground line collapsed. The area had to be cooled off the first day; on the second day, another team was able to close the valve.
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.