John Manzi, right, with fellow firefighter Matt Smith.

John Manzi, right, with fellow firefighter Matt Smith. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

John Manzi Jr. never expected to be rescuing one of his fellow firefighters when he responded to a kitchen fire on Thanksgiving Day in 2022.

Manzi, the 2nd assistant chief and a paramedic with the West Babylon Volunteer Fire Department, said he observed then-captain Matt Smith in distress while both were on the exterior staircase of a two-story house in the hamlet.

“It was pretty smoky and there was low visibility,” Manzi, 39, recalled. “At the top of the staircase I could see a firefighter sitting, but he was kind of slumped over and cross-legged. I grabbed him on the shoulder and go to turn him toward me, and that’s when I realized he was having a medical problem. He was purple and ashen and just not breathing.”

The quick-thinking Manzi grabbed the struggling Smith under the arm and carried him and his heavy gear to safety with the help of other firefighters before initiating several minutes of rescue breathing and CPR. Smith was then shocked twice with an automated external defibrillator before he “started coming back around,” Manzi said.

Smith, who had gone into cardiac arrest, was taken to Good Samaritan University Hospital in West Islip, where he underwent a double bypass heart surgery.

“It was a perfect team effort — from the guys who helped me get him down the stairs to the emergency medical services and hospital crews,” said Manzi, a 22-year veteran of the fire department. “Everything went right in a really bad situation. It comes back to good training, staying calm and being ready to perform your job all the time.”

Smith, who said he has since made a full recovery and is again an active member of the fire department, praised Manzi for his actions and described him as “very professional.”

“I’ve known John a long time, and he does his job well,” Smith said. “There is no better feeling than saving someone’s life, and everybody who does that should get an award.”

Indeed, Manzi’s heroic efforts were rewarded late last year, when he was named 2023 Firefighter of the Year by the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighter’s Association. He was also awarded the Bronze Medal of Valor by the Suffolk County Fire Academy’s Vocational Education and Extension Board.

“Asst. Chief Manzi, in his heroic actions, exemplified the standards of what it means to be a volunteer firefighter in Suffolk County,” board member Patrick C. Murphy said. “His actions represent the best of the volunteer fire service, showed his dedication to training and ability to stay calm . . . and ensured that ex-captain Smith was in the best care possible during cardiac arrest.”

Vinny Ammirati, president of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighter’s Association, added: “Chief Manzi’s quick actions were crucial in ensuring a Thanksgiving miracle for the Smith family.”

Nominate a Long Islander who goes above and beyond or serves as an inspiration to their community. Send details and photograph to Michael Ebert, (photos should be high-resolution). Photos may be used in other publications affiliated with Newsday.

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