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Suffolk County police officers who saved 7 lives honored

A house fire in Centereach on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, called forth courage and swift action in Suffolk County’s police, specifically Officer James Anson who pulled a family from a window. After the ordeal, the officer reunited with the family. Credit: Stringer News Service

Three young women and a family owe their lives to police officers who braved hazards ranging from asbestos to flames without hesitation, Suffolk County police said Wednesday.

The officers who saved the trio — who police believe may have been suicidal — and those who rescued a family of four from a house fire were honored by Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron at a news conference.

Alerted by a parent that their daughter might try to end her life somewhere at the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, police said they sent up Aviation Section Sgt. Brian Barrett. His helicopter’s infrared cameras located three “extremely agitated” young women perilously close to the rooftop ledge of a dilapidated building riddled with asbestos, police said.

One of the 19-to-20 year olds appeared to be trying to stop her two friends from jumping over the wall, a 125-foot drop, they said.

Instead of taking the time to don protective suits, Emergency Service Section Officers Thomas Russo and Gerald Sheridan requested permission to break immediately into the building, equipped only with respirators, officers said.

Navigating through the dark in a mazelike building, they reached the top floor, which had collapsed, forcing them to cross a 12-foot drop on planks.

At one point, the officers heard one girl scream: “I can’t hold her, I can’t hold her, she’s going to jump.”

Two of the girls pushed their friend back inside. Upon seeing the officers, one threatened to leap down the 12-foot drop.

Sheridan stopped her from harming herself by pinning her to the wall. Next, one girl raced back to the ledge; Russo bolted after her and prevented her from going over the side, according to a video Barrett shot.

The officers then persuaded the three women to safely descend.

The Kings Park site, now a state park, has become a magnet for trespassers, neighbors and authorities say. Many of buildings have been broken into and bear graffiti.

Russo said it was “very gratifying” to save their lives. “It’s what I signed up for, he added.

Last Friday’s Centereach house fire called forth the same courage and swift action in Suffolk’s police.

“Officer James Anson is a true hero here; he did what most of us wish we could do,” said Centereach Fire Department First Assistant Chief Bob Corley.

Anson’s 12-year-old daughter, Calleigh, also did her part.

She saw the neighbor’s house burning from an upstairs window just before 11 p.m., and alerted her father. She called 911 while Anson ran out, grabbed a ladder and placed it against the burning building.

Though close enough to smell the smoke, Officers Donny Calcagno and William Cope could not determine its direction until Calleigh gave 911 the address.

They arrived a minute or so later, thanks in part to Cope’s in-depth knowledge of local streets, Calcagno said.

“By the time I turned around, the two Sixth Precinct officers were there,” said Anson, a Seventh Precinct Officer.

Anson passed the two children to the other officers “one at a time,” followed by their mother and father, he said.

Anson showed no inclination to become a firefighter. “That fire is very hot; I like being in a police car,” he said.

Referring to all six heroes, Cameron said: “Without a doubt, they saved the lives of the people involved.”

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