Leap for Life From Inferno
A search for four children in a 2 1/2-story wood frame house nearly cost three Buffalo fire fighters their lives when an explosive flash of flame turned the dwelling interior into an inferno. One of the fire fighters, seared by flame, plunged headfirst through a second-story window into the arms of two other firemen.
When first-due Engine 9 reached the scene, Lieutenant Fred Larson heard that four children were still in the house. After men from Engines 3 and 9 put on Scott Air-Paks and started to search the building, it was learned that three of the children had already leaped from a window into the arms of a neighbor. However, an 11-month-old girl was still in the house. The fire fighters were groping through the smoke, searching for the child.
Then it happened. The smoke-filled house was suddenly seething with flame—flame that roared through the building with explosive force. John O’Neill of Engine 9 was on the second floor at the stairs at that moment. The violence of flame takeover bowled him down the stairs.
As Larson later said, “John just seemed to erupt from the building.”
Bill Phillips of Engine 9 was next to a window and through reflex action leaped feet-first through it. He landed on the ground without injury.
Meanwhile, Frank Podsiadlo of Engine 3 was on the second floor, searching for the little girl, when the home burst into flame. He tried to make it to a window but was driven back by flame. His ears seemed to be on fire and his coat was so hot that he felt like his body was in a barbeque pit. Podiadlo tried once more and made the window.
“I didn’t run out of air,” Podsiadlo later recalled. “I did know, however, that 1 was completely engulfed in flame. One breath of that searing hot atmosphere and 1 would have been dead. My Scott Air-Pak saved my life.”
On the ground, Ralph Backes of Ladder 3 was motioning for Podsiadlo to jump. When O’Neill picked himself up after his explosive ejection from the house, he saw Podsiadlo at the window and ran to help Backes make the catch.
At that moment, Podsiadlo plunged headfirst out the window and into the arms of Backes, who made the catch with an assist from O’Neill. All three fire fighters wound up on the ground, but only Podsiadlo was injured. He broke a kneecap in the plunge, and his ears were burned enough to leave scars. However, he can still hear and he was soon walking with a knee cast.
Andy Boyd, acting lieutenant of Engine 3, continued the search for the baby and found her under a bed. Hugging her to his body to provide some protection for her, he ran outside, where Larson began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Larson continued the resuscitation all the way to the hospital. Physicians and nurses did all they could, but the child’s life was lost.
Buffalo Courier Express photos by Hon Moscati