Smoke was so thick inside the burning Freeport home early Monday, a pair of off-duty police officers had to crawl on their hands and knees to get into the burning two-story structure.
They could hear panicked screams from the family of six inside but could only get a glimpse of them because of the smoke.
“I couldn’t see much, I could only make out a couple of silhouettes,” said Freeport Police Officer Corey Cooke, also a lieutenant in the Freeport Fire Department, recalling the rescue effort.
Cooke and Nassau Police Officer Gary Boulanger — both in street clothes and without protective gear — eventually led the family members, including a 90-year-old woman, to safety.
“I crawled a little further and grabbed her ankles,” Boulanger said of his efforts to rescue the elderly woman, adding that Cooke held her near the shoulders as the officers ferried her out.
Hours after the 6:30 a.m. blaze, which was put out by Freeport firefighters with help from several other departments, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and others lauded the pair as heroes.
The officers “saved their lives. There’s no doubt,” Mangano said at a Monday news conference in Mineola where he presented them each with a citation. “I’m certain if the six residents could be here today, they’d be giving them hugs and kisses for all that they did.”
Boulanger, Cooke, and the six rescued from the burning home — a 13-year-old, an 18-year-old and four adults, including the 90-year-old woman carried from the flames after falling down a flight of stairs — were transported to Nassau University Medical Center, suffering from smoke inhalation, said Dr. Victor Politi, the hospital CEO.
All were treated and released, Politi said, except for the 90-year-old, who is still hospitalized in the surgical intensive care unit.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, if these people continued in that environment, in that atmosphere of high carbon monoxide, the outcome would have been different,” Politi said.
Family members could not be reached for comment.
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy also said tragedy would have happened if the officers had not “charged into the burning house” to save the family.
“Let’s not forget the rapid response again by a volunteer fire department in the village of Freeport that responded and extinguished this fire without a minute’s delay. What would we do without our great police and fire departments?” Kennedy said in a statement.
Freeport Fire First Assistant Chief Matthew Colgan said the county fire marshal is investigating the cause of the blaze, which does not appear to be intentionally set.
Firefighters from Baldwin, North Merrick, Oceanside, Bellmore-Merrick and Freeport, as well as EMS and ambulance crews responded, Colgan said.
Nassau police Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki said the officers’ actions were “typical of what our cops do, even when they’re off-duty: jump in and take this action. Put themselves at risk like this. It’s fantastic work.”
Cooke and Boulanger, meanwhile, shrugged off all the praise.
Cooke is a third-generation firefighter — his late grandfather, Benjamin Cooke was a Freeport fire chief; his father, Steven Cooke, is a former Freeport fire captain and his brother Patrick Cooke is also a Freeport firefighter — so, he said, running toward danger is second nature.
Boulanger, who’s been a police officer for more than 32 years, said he never thought about waiting for the firefighters to arrive.
“It’s not what we do. We’re trained to save lives and be there for people,” Boulanger said. “I did my job. It’s not a safe line of work. We both did our jobs.
— With John Valenti