Long Beach firefighters pushed past smoke and flames to enter a burning house Friday morning because they feared that a woman and her three grandchildren were trapped upstairs in the Lido Beach home, officials said.
The firefighters made it to the second floor, where a ceiling collapsed on top of them, causing burns and bruises. The five injured rescuers, two of whom were treated at hospitals, would later learn that the house was unoccupied, its residents away on vacation.
The fire was especially dangerous because it was "an old house with old wood. It went up like a matchstick," said First Assistant Fire Chief Jim Walsh, of the volunteer Point Lookout-Lido Fire Department.
The Long Beach firefighters' bravery inspired praise from their peers, volunteer and paid.
"The first hour we didn't know if there was anyone inside," Walsh said of the 7 a.m. Blackheath Road fire. "The flames were so hot. We were just beating back the flames and looking" for anyone inside.
The two firefighters treated at hospitals were from Long Beach, said Long Beach First Assistant Chief Antonio Cuevas. One was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow with burns, and a second was taken to Long Beach Medical Center with head and neck injuries. Three other firefighters, two from Long Beach and one from Point Lookout, sustained minor injures and were treated at the scene, Cuevas said.
Walsh said the initial suspected cause is electrical, and the blaze began in a first-floor den. The home's owner could not be reached for comment Friday.
Long Beach's professionally staffed trucks responded to the neighboring district's fire even though it wasn't in their jurisdiction -- a routine mutual-aid courtesy, Cuevas said. The fully involved fire was daunting, "the hottest fire I've seen in a long time," Cuevas said.
"Reports of the possibility of a grandmother and three grandchildren in the house" caused the responding firefighters to put aside concerns about personal safety, the Long Beach Professional Firefighters Local 287 said in a statement.
The union said those who arrived first, the Long Beach crew, encountered "a fully engulfed house fire," with the first floor completely ablaze and parts of the second floor already burned through the roof.
Jack Schnirman, the Long Beach city manager, praised the city's firefighters.
"They did a fantastic job," Schnirman said. "When duty calls they answer."