Firefighters Anthony Mauro, John Waldron and Joe Canosa were battling a house fire in New Hyde Park when the basement exploded beneath them. The trio crawled through a cellar window to rescue two other firefighters, one unconscious, trapped in the blaze.
Wednesday, the three men will receive the Nassau County Fire Commission's highest award, the Gold Medal of Valor, for their heroism during the fire on Feb. 4, 2011. Five other firefighters from county departments will be honored with silver and bronze medals of valor for their help with the rescue.
"It just shows dedication," said New Hyde Park Fire Department Deputy Chief Steven Waldron, John Waldron's brother. "They went above and beyond the call of the duty."
The awards will be presented Wednesday night at the Nassau County Legislative Chambers in Mineola. Mauro, a firefighter, and John Waldron, 34, a lieutenant, are New Hyde Park volunteers. Canosa, 23, is from the Floral Park Fire Department.
Mauro, 23, said he was in the kitchen, 5 feet from the basement stairs, when the explosion occurred.
"It was like a fireball shooting right out at us," Mauro said. "It pushed me and three people out of the back door."
Four of the six firefighters in the basement escaped up the stairs, but two were trapped, according to an account of the scene by Steven Waldron. A firefighter outside heard a passive alarm -- which signals when a firefighter hasn't moved for a period of time -- near one of the basement windows. Sean Carton, a New Hyde Park volunteer, could be seen inside from the window. Carton told them that the other firefighter, James Devane, also of New Hyde Park, had run out of air and was unconscious.
Mauro went first through the window. He said he wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he hadn't tried to free his friends. "If it was me down there, both of them would do the exact same thing," he said.
The basement was full of dark gray smoke but no flames, he said. The fire was in another room. Mauro helped Carton out through the window, then crawled to Devane. Mauro said he took off his mask to give Devane some oxygen.
John Waldron, Canosa and three other firefighters joined Mauro to get Devane up the staircase.
"It is a great honor and I'm just thankful that everyone is OK," Mauro said, "and that we're not having an award for something that turned into a tragedy." There were no residents in the house at the time.
Carton will receive a silver Medal of Valor. Bronze medals of valor will be given to Pat Jack, Floral Park Fire Department; Michael Magus, Garden City Park Fire Department; Don Kipp, Bellerose Terrace Fire Department; and Chief Rob Connolly, Mineola Fire Department. New Hyde Park will receive a unit citation.