ADELPHI, Md. — They braved high heat and tall ladders to rescue people from the top floor of a burning apartment building in Adelphi Wednesday, and Thursday some of those Prince George’s County firefighters talked about what they went through.
Firefighter Tommy Rhodes drove a ladder truck to the scene, and then climbed up the ladder to try to help two people down. One was an elderly woman who needed a lot of help.
“I was carrying the lady down, rung by rung, underneath her arms,” Rhodes says.
Eventually she was placed in what’s called a “Stokes basket” to more easily get her to the ground.
Rhodes also helped a man, who at one point got nervous being up on the ladder.
“I just told him to lay down into the back of the ladder. He just laid down and I grabbed his legs and I just moved him down that way.”
Rhodes says the man gave the firefighters a great compliment.
“They were from another country, I don’t know exactly where. He goes, ‘This is one of the great reasons I came to the United States is because they didn’t offer this stuff in my country, and I really thank you for being allowed to offer this kind of service to us.'”
Firefighter Miguel Ocasio, Jr. also helped on the ladder.
“As we were climbing the ladder I looked to the left and it was a lot of fire and I was like, wow. It’s got to be hot in there. The first thing I thought about was my crew that was inside. But I also realized that I did have a task to complete and my main focus was to think about the task.”
Ocasio was asked if the rescue was different from what he had trained to do.
“It was different. Very different and exciting, but at the same time it was serious,” he says.
Fire Lt. Steve Tabak was among those who went inside the building, up the stairs to the fourth floor.
“The hallway was pitch black. A lot of heat. We were pretty much forced to crawl. We were not able to walk in there.”
He and other firefighters went door to door, breaking them in to make sure people were not trapped inside their apartments.
“We searched using our tools, using our hands, and I had a thermal imaging camera.”
They did not find anyone trapped, but Tabak burned his knees in the process.
“I felt a little bit of discomfort on my knees, kind of if you were crawling around on a carpet wearing shorts, like rug burn. But other than that I kept going. I had a job to do. I put that thought to the side. It wasn’t until after the fire that I just noticed my knees weren’t feeling right and I got checked out.”
Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor says Tabak and the other two firefighters injured in the fire were released from the hospital Wednesday night. He believes two residents are still being treated.
Bashoor had great praise for the work done in Adelphi.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. They were confronted with some of the most severe circumstances that many of them have ever seen in their careers. Some of them short careers, some of them long careers.”
Bashoor says the rescuers will be officially recognized in a ceremony sometime in the future.
He says the fire was extraordinary, even for someone of his experience.
“In 35 years of doing this, it’s only the second time I’ve ever seen somebody brought down in a Stokes basket from anything.”
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