Steven Ortner, Lisa Ostrowski and their baby, Leo.

Steven Ortner, Lisa Ostrowski and their baby, Leo. Credit: Family photo

A free spirit, who had traveled around playing bass in bands, Steven Ortner’s life turned on a dime when he met Lisa Ostrowski about three years ago. They fell in love so fast it stunned those who knew him, said people close to the couple.

"Meeting his future wife and having a baby changed his entire life," said Ortner’s co-worker and friend James Chmela, 51. "He’s a young man and it showed him responsibility and love, and he learned how to put people above himself."

Chmela, of Selden, added, "That’s what put him in the situation he was in."

Early Friday morning, a fast-moving, wind-whipped fire engulfed the couple’s home in East Setauket, officials said. Ortner was able to carry the couple’s baby, Leo, out to a roof ledge and hand him down to a good Samaritan. He tried to get back in to get Ostrowski but a wall of flames and fire officials stopped him, authorities said.

Ostrowski, 31, died, officials said.

Ortner, 30, remains in critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit at Stony Brook University Hospital with burns on his head, face, back and hands, said his mother, Carolyn Ortner, 59, of North Carolina.

He knows his fiance is gone, she said.

Heavily sedated, when Ortner wakes he keeps saying that he tried to save her but they had to save the baby first, she said.

"He keeps saying, ‘I tried, I tried,’" she said.

Leo, their infant, is also in the hospital with light burns on his hands, forehead and nose, said Carolyn Ortner. His condition is improving and he is expected to make a full recovery, she said.

Steven Ortner, Lisa Ostrowski and their baby, Leo.

Steven Ortner, Lisa Ostrowski and their baby, Leo. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Family friend Barbara Prass, 58, said the baby cries with a voice hoarse from the smoke, and one of his lungs has collapsed.

"He’s sedated. He does wake up crying and looks around and falls asleep," Prass said.

Family members are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire and of Ostrowski’s death.

Ortner’s father, Clayton Ortner, his voice breaking, said the couple were heroic in their efforts to save their baby.

"It was the teamwork of Steven and Lisa together that got that baby out," he said.

His wife, her voice also cracking, added, "Lisa lost her life in that house saving that baby, handing him to Steven."

The couple met about three years ago.

"Forget about it, it was head over heels from the beginning," Prass said, saying the couple quickly started talking about being together forever. "It seemed too fast. We’d say, ‘Don’t you want to get to know each other first?’"

Leo arrived 10 months ago and the couple was engaged. Ortner has been working for several years as a salesman at an answering service company in Nesconset, signing up new clients, Chmela said.

"We all saw a change in him when he met Lisa. He was happier, more outgoing," said Chmela, who also works at the company. "She was a very, very nice woman. She was Steven’s missing piece, and he was her missing piece."

Chris Ferguson also works at the company. He said Ortner, as a younger man, had spent a couple of years traveling and playing bass in a band, "trying to find himself."

"He met Lisa and he became a bit more motivated. He wanted to build a family, a life, a career on Long Island," said Ferguson, 31, of Terryville.

Early Saturday morning, doctors placed Ortner on a ventilator, his family said. His parents and twin sister, Allison Ortner, are spending long hours at the hospital, and his older brother, Clayton Ortner, is coming in from Florida.

"They almost didn’t let his parents see him," Prass said, because of his condition. "But that wasn’t going to happen."

Prass has started a GoFundMe page to help the family.

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