Although he was still blocks away, Suffolk County police Officer Francis McKay could see and smell the thick black smoke pouring from a house in North Babylon.
Racing into the Woods Road home on Wednesday, McKay said he felt the heat from the fire and heard the commotion at the top of the stairs that directed him to the trapped elderly amputee.
“Honestly, when I went in there I didn’t notice it,” he said of the smoke. “I wasn’t concerned with myself, I was just concerned with making sure everybody who was in that house was going to get out in one piece.”
McKay saved that man and on Thursday he and two other officers who saved another man in a separate fire were honored for their bravery by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Bellone and Police Chief Stuart Cameron gathered in front of the First Precinct in West Babylon to commend First Precinct Officer McKay, 28, and Second Precinct Officers Joelvy Delacruz and Thomas Phelan.
On Oct. 19 Delacruz and Phelan jumped into action after Phillip Levy, 85, of Melville, crashed into a guardrail in South Huntington. With the vehicle on fire and Levy unconscious, Delacruz and Phelan, along with some Good Samaritans, safely removed Levy from the 2010 Hyundai sport utility vehicle.
“While most of us are sleeping at night, they are out there putting their lives on the line, taking risks in order to protect our community and to help save lives,” Bellone said of the officers. “You really do represent the best of this department and we are so proud of the actions you have taken to save these lives.”
Delacruz, who Cameron said had been with the department about three years, and Phelan, who has been with the department for about eight years, spoke humbly about the rescue. Delacruz said the officers “weren’t really worried” about the car possibly exploding and were more concerned with making sure Levy got out.
“It truly was a team effort by everyone who was on the scene,” Phelan said.
Cameron said that the two incidents exemplify how officers continually put their own lives at risk. “These officers could have been seriously hurt or killed performing these rescues,” he said.
McKay on Thursday was given the additional recognition of the Town of Babylon’s highest honor, the Heroism Award.
“I know what it’s like to be in the split-second scenario involving smoke and fire,” said Babylon Town Councilman Terence McSweeney in presenting the award. McSweeney is a FDNY member and a volunteer firefighter in North Babylon. “Most people do panic when they get that first hit of bad air and usually retreat and I think it’s because of Officer McKay’s professionalism that he knew he had a job to do and he did it.”
McKay had been in the area when he responded to the 911 call about the fire. It wasn’t until he got to the house that he learned that Michael Goldstein, 73, was stuck on the second floor. Two Good Samaritans had tried to get him down but were unsuccessful. That’s when McKay grabbed Goldstein in a bear hug and carried him down the stairs to a wheelchair, before leading him out of the burning house.
McKay credits his four years as a wrestler at W. Tresper Clarke High School in Westbury as helping him rescue Goldstein. “You learn a lot in wrestling about perseverance and hard work and I think that was able to aid in my rescuing this gentleman,” he said.
McKay’s actions happen to have occurred on the second anniversary of his joining the Suffolk department. “I was just 10 minutes into the tour when the rescue happened,” he said with a laugh.