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Off-duty firefighter praised as 'hero' in rescue from burning car

Matthew Monahan took a break from his duties

Matthew Monahan took a break from his duties as a nursing assistant on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 to visit Alyssa Fox, 20, in the hospital room where she is recovering from her injuries from an accident last weekend. Monahan rescued Fox from a burning car. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Scott Fox celebrated his 50th birthday Tuesday with the gratitude of a father whose daughter had been about 60 seconds away from death.

The young woman had been pulled out of a burning car Saturday by an off-duty Commack volunteer firefighter and a Long Island Rail Road engineer barely a minute before it was engulfed by flames.

"She's feeling good. She's happy to be alive," said Fox, of Seaford, at the bedside of his daughter, Alyssa Marie Fox, 20, in an interview at Stony Brook University Hospital.

The man who pulled her from her car early Saturday was Commack firefighter Matthew Monahan, 26, who has been with the department for eight years and whose father had been a New York City firefighter and Commack volunteer firefighter for 40 years. He was helped by Joseph Moscato, of Centereach, an LIRR engineer who used a handheld fire extinguisher from his car to push back the flames while Monahan pulled the Seaford hairdresser from the car.

Both just happened to be passing by the single-car crash and got out to help.

Monahan, who works as a nursing assistant in the emergency room at Stony Brook, went to Alyssa's room a second time Tuesday to wish her well -- the first time was just after she arrived -- and hugged her father.

"It's the best birthday present ever," the father told Monahan.

Commack Fire Commissioner Pat Fazio said the accident occurred about 2 a.m. on Route 347 near Townline Road in Hauppauge, and he decided to put out word about the rescue after the parents, Scott Fox and his wife, Laura Fox, sent him a letter saying, "how different our lives would be today if not for these men."

Monahan recalled: "She was conscious the whole time. I was asking her, 'Are you OK?' She was able to answer . . . It was great to have that. Everything aligned right."

Monahan downplayed any suggestion he was a hero, the parents said in their letter.

"We told him, with all due respect, you are our hero and on that cold March night you did much more than 'just your job.' You put yourself in danger for another human being," the letter read.

Monahan said as he was trying to pull Alyssa from the car, flames began shooting from under the dashboard. Moscato used the last blast from the extinguisher to beat back the flames and Monahan pulled her free.

"If we didn't get her out then, she wasn't going to make it," Moscato told News 12 Long Island. "It bought us that 30 seconds we needed."

The parents said in the letter that their daughter was "approximately 60 seconds . . . from certain death."

Monahan said when Alyssa Fox was finally extracted "the first thing she wanted to do was to call her mother. I gave her my phone and she was saying, 'my mother's going to kill me.'

"I told her don't worry. Your mom's just scared."

Dr. Steven Sandoval, the emergency room doctor when Alyssa Fox was brought in, said she has "significant injuries to her spine, as well as ankle and lung injuries. She remains stable, serious. She will require intensive physical therapy, but there should be no long-term disability."

With John Paraskevas

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