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Praise for Suffolk cop who helped family to safety after predawn house fire

Firefighters gather at the scene of a West

Firefighters gather at the scene of a West Babylon house fire Tuesday where a Suffolk police officer helped residents inside escape uninjured.   Credit: Paul Mazza

A West Babylon family whose house caught fire early Tuesday praised an alert Suffolk police officer after he saw smoke while on predawn patrol and pounded on their door, allowing them to escape before the blaze engulfed their home.

Suffolk police said Officer Avital Donnenfeld of the First Precinct in West Babylon was patrolling in the neighborhood about 3:55 a.m. when he noticed the smoke, determined it was coming from the home on Ecker Avenue and alerted the residents.

"The man is a hero,” said Jason Hoffmann, a steamfitter who lives at the ranch-style house with his wife and two sons. “He should be recognized for it, 100 percent. … Everybody, thankfully, everybody made it outside. We’re all good.”

No one was injured but despite pleas from the family to get out of the burning home, their dog, Riley, was too scared to leave and died in the fire, Hoffmann said.

“It is devastating,” he said of the 2-year-old Jack Russell terrier. “She was part of the family.”

The fire destroyed the home's garage.

“We got outside and the whole garage was engulfed in flames," he said, "and that was it.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation by Arson Squad detectives and the Suffolk fire marshal’s office, but no foul play is suspected, police said.

Donnenfeld could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Hoffmann said he was in the shower getting ready for work when his wife, Theresa, banged on the bathroom door and told him Donnenfeld had gotten her attention by pounding on their door. The officer also went to several neighbors’ doors to alert residents.

“Get out, get out, get out,” Hoffmann recalled Donnenfeld shouting.

“He knocked on the door next door. He knocked on both neighbors’ doors," Hoffmann said. "He really went above and beyond. He just happened to be passing by. It shows he was paying attention.”

Donnenfeld and the Hoffmanns helped the couple’s sons, Ian, 6, and Nicholas, 12, get out of the house safely, Suffolk police said.

Work crews boarded up the windows Tuesday afternoon as area residents and investigators surveyed the damage.

A sharp odor of smoke hung in the air and wafted throughout the neighborhood long after the flames had been extinguished by West Babylon firefighters.

So hot was the fire that it melted the front end of an Acura RDX in the Hoffmanns’ driveway. The heat melted the passenger side headlight on a Sierra pickup and singed the side of a neighbor’s house.

The Hoffmanns were planning on staying with his parents in Holbrook Tuesday night and will use insurance to rent a hotel room and another house while the home is being repaired, Jason Hoffmann said.

Friends were helping the family salvage and pack items pulled from the rubble and Hoffmann's co-workers have set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations.


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