FDNY Lt. Robert Lee of Kings Park says "you don't want to miss somebody" when fighting a fire. "That's the scariest part of the job," the 18-year veteran said.
Lee, 43, credits his crew for "aggressively" containing a fire to the basement of a Bronx home, giving him "the extra time" he needed to rescue a woman and child from the burning house.
For his bravery and commitment to saving lives, Lee was among 65 fire and emergency medical service personnel recognized at Medal Day Wednesday. He was awarded the FDNY's highest honor at the 69th Regiment Armory ceremony in Manhattan.
Lee, a husband and father, told reporters after the ceremony that when firefighters arrived at the Castle Hill Avenue home on Oct. 23, 2013, it was fully engulfed. Several people were trapped on a second-floor balcony, Lee said. His crew from Ladder 47 was assisted by Engine 96 and Ladder 54.
Though visibility was zero inside the house, Lee said he climbed a staircase and found a rear bedroom, whose door was jammed by furniture. Lee persisted, however, crawling into the room to find a woman on the floor. He dragged her outside and went back in to look for more people. "I knew there were possibly more people in that room and I knew how to get back in there," Lee said. When he found an unconscious girl under the bed, he said he immediately thought about his wife and daughter. "They were about the same age."
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who presented the medals, said Lee demonstrated "cool headed leadership."
Retiring Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, who also gave the awards, said Medal Day was "always a great day to recognize extraordinary service." Massapequa Park resident and FDNY firefighter James Trainor Jr., 31, a nine-year veteran, received a medal for facing down a man who wielded a meat cleaver he was using to hit his wife in Chinatown on Feb. 24, 2013.
Trainor said: "I came up to him [the man] face-to-face and brought him down to the ground." Trainor comes from a family of firefighters. "My father, seven cousins and my uncle. It's a family thing," he said smiling.
Receiving the highest honor for an EMT was Brendon Hernandez, 25, of Newburgh, who made headlines when he confronted a mentally ill patient who had grabbed an NYPD officer's gun and fired two shots -- one hitting the officer in the foot. Hernandez said he heard the shots and ran out of his ambulance at Harlem Hospital on June 10, 2013. "I grabbed the gun out of his hand and emptied it," Hernandez said, who added his career ambition is to join the NYPD's Emergency Service Unit.