Firefighter James Lee Jr. of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has been named the 2017 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award recipient. The award will be presented on Wednesday during the Opening Ceremony of FDIC International 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. See a list of the other nominees HERE.
A description from his nomination of the event:
Firefighter (FF) James Lee rescued an 81-year-old man from the top-floor rear window of a five-story Old Law tenement that had two railroad flats per floor. The building had no rear fire escape. The wooden stairway to the second floor was damaged by fire. On the second floor, the entire railroad flat where the victim, Mr. Duffy, lived was fully involved, and fire was burning in the public hallway and stairway up to the floors above.
Lee was lowered over the rear edge of the building on a live-saving rope to make the rescue.
FF James Lee was assigned the Roof position in Rescue 1 for the night tour. He made his way up to the roof via exposure 2’s interior stairway. Once on the roof, FF Lee observed that fire was blowing out of the enclosed light and air shaft at least 30 feet in the air and that the roof and bulkhead of exposure 4 was on fire. The rear of the building had a four-foot iron fence that was eight inches from the back edge of the roof. Conditions on the roof, as well as at the rear of the building, were rapidly deteriorating. FF Lee heard someone give a report of a victim at a top-floor rear window.
Because of the heavy smoke and heat pushing straight up and over the rear of the building, FF Lee quickly moved toward the exposure 2 side of the building to get an angled view that would enable him to get a visual look as well as establish contact with the victim. The windows of the apartment where the victim was had now failed, and heavy smoke and heat were venting out over the victim’s head. FF Lee told the victim that help was on the way and to stay in the window.
Heavy smoke and heat were pushing even harder up and over the rear of the building. FF Lee moved to a position on the roof that was in line with and over the victim. He could hear the victim but could not see him. FF Hawkins tied off the life-saving rope (LSR) to a short 3 × 3 chimney that was approximately 10 feet back from the edge of the roof and centered in the building. FF Lee untied the bowline on a bight to avoid running the rope over the top of the iron fence, which could have damaged the rope or compromised the anchor/system. He passed the LSR hook under the four-foot wrought-iron fence, fed it back over the fence, and then attached it to his personal harness.
Conditions were becoming unbearable on the top floor. At one point, FF Rush noticed Mr. Duffy had disappeared from sight.
FF Rush called him back and told him to stay at the window and that a firefighter was being lowered down to him by rope.
FF Lee climbed over the four-inch iron fence and stood on the narrow eight-inch of roof between the fence and the rear edge of the building. FF Lee could hear Mr. Duffy yelling for help and saying that he was “burning.” While reassuring Mr. Duffy and using Mr. Duffy’s voice as a guide, FF Lee positioned the anti-chaffing device on the edge of the building. FF Lee, without hesitation, and at extreme personal risk, dismounted into the high heat and black smoke that was now pushing violently from the top-floor windows. Once over the edge and on rope, FF Lee was “blasted” with high heat. Visibility was zero. While being exposed to this extreme heat, he remained focused and continued to communicate and reassure Mr. Duffy.
Once FF Lee became level with the window, FF Rush radioed FF Hawkins to stop lowering FF Lee. Mr. Duffy was crouched down below the windowsill; fire was now lapping out over his head, preventing him from standing up and coming to the window. FF Lee reached into the window and was able to get one arm around Mr. Duffy’s back and one arm under his knees (Mr. Duffy was unable to hold onto FF Lee because of the cuts and burns on his hands and arms.) With all of his strength, FF Lee grabbed the 81-year-old Duffy and pulled him out of the window. The force from this removal caused FF Lee and the victim to rotate 180 degrees so that FF Lee’s back was now to the building.
FF Rush gave the order to lower. FF Lee, while being lowered with his back to the building and the victim in his arms, was unable to use his hands to rotate himself back to face the building. To avoid being hung up on parts of the building while being lowered, he had to continually kick off the building with his legs while cradling the weight of a grown man in his arms.
Members on the roof now observed that the LSR began to burn as FF Lee and Mr. Duffy approached the third floor. By the time they reached the ground, the window from which Mr. Duffy was rescued was fully involved in fire. Shortly after reaching the ground, the LSR burned through completely and fell to the ground. FF Lee and FF Rush carried Mr. Duffy through Exposure 4 to the front of the fire building, where he was handed off to EMS.
Lee operated under extreme personal risk while performing a lifesaving rope rescue in blacked-out conditions and in high heat while he was being lowered by rope. As he was being lowered, the rope caught fire, and flames burned through the rope as the pair touched down. One man on the third floor died in this six-alarm, early-morning fire. Three other civilians and 11 firefighters suffered minor injuries.
Jim Lee joined the Fire Department of New York on May 4, 2003, after 2 1/2 years serving as a firefighter in the District of Columbia Fire Department, working in Engine 2 and Truck 6. In August 2003, he was appointed to Engine 45 in the West Farms section of the Bronx. Lee transferred to Ladder Company 147 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in February 2006, where he spent the next eight years crafting his skills as a firefighter, striving every day to learn as much as he could about the trade. In August 2014, Lee transferred to Rescue 1 in Manhattan, where he remains to this day, and has participated in many rescue operations, one of which was the Miracle on 93rd Street, on October 27, 2016.