A Commack firefighter’s brave efforts crawling through flames to save an elderly woman from her burning home has earned him a prestigious honor from the Suffolk County Fire Academy.
Christopher Ciaccio, an assistant chief with the Commack Fire Department, has received the Silver Medal of Valor for rescuing Evelyn Cohen, then 77, of East Northport, in April 2022. The firefighter navigated the blaze and billowing smoke to an upstairs bedroom, where he found Cohen, whom he lifted through a window and into the arms of police officers who used a neighbor’s ladder to carry the woman to the ground.
Cohen’s home was destroyed by the fire and it also took the life of her pet cat, but she and her husband, Harold, both survived thanks to the heroic work of Ciaccio and the other firefighters who arrived at their split-level home on Penfield Drive just after 3 a.m.
“It’s very special to me, and it does mean a lot to me to receive it,” Ciaccio, 34, said of the medal. Of the rescue, he said: “I’ve lived in Commack my entire life and have a very strong sense of community pride, so to have an effect on a fellow Commack community member was huge to me.”
Ciaccio has also received the New York State Association for Fire Chiefs’ Presidential Achievement Award and the Suffolk County Firefighters Emerald Society’s Medal of Valor for his rescue of Cohen.
Cohen surprised Ciaccio at the Commack firehouse about 2½ months after the fire, following her hospitalization and rehabilitation for smoke inhalation. At the time, she told Newsday that the fire changed her perspective on life, leading her to think positively after having to learn to talk and breathe again due to having been on a ventilator.
Ciaccio, who has been with the Commack Fire Department for 15 years, started his career in emergency services as an emergency medical technician and also spent 11 years with the New York Police Department, where he worked as a detective until earlier this year. He is currently a member of Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Fire Rescue Group.
“Despite being the newest member of our team, everyone wants Chris by their side when the call comes in,” said Marcel Rosenfeld, BNL’s fire chief. “His ability to take charge and lead in high-pressure situations is a testament to his commitment and competence.”
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