Rockaway’s Bravest Honored By Mayor
On the night of the October 29th, 2012, off-duty Fire Lieutenant Thomas G. Woods, along with his son, Brendan, helped rescue more than 25 neighbors caught between the flood waters and the flames in his Belle Harbor neighborhood, even as his own home was destroyed by flames.
Those he brought to safety during Hurricane Sandy included families with children, a wheelchair bound neighbor, and an elderly couple in their 80’s. He used surfboards and kayaks to assist in the rescue.
On Wednesday, June 5th, he and other Rockaway firefighters were honored at the New York City Fire Department’s 144th Medal Day.
Speaking at the ceremony at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan along with other dignitaries, the Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated, “Thanks to the heroic work of our City’s Firefighters and EMS crews, 2012 was our safest year on record---in spite this devastating storm (Hurricane Sandy).”
“On behalf of all New Yorkers,” he added, “I am honored to join you in applauding this year’s medal recipients.”
The event drew hundreds of firefighters, officers, officials, family, friends and guests.
Among New York’s Bravest recognized that day, Rockaway’s firefighters stood tall.
According to Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, “For only the third time since 1869 when the FDNY began awarding medals for bravery, the top honor, the James Gordon Bennett Medal, goes this year to a member for off-duty heroics.”
“Lieutenant Thomas G. Woods,” the Commissioner continued, “…rescued more than 25 friends and neighbors whose lives were threatened when they became trapped by fire and flood with hurricane force winds (of more than 80 miles per hour).”
Recognized by the FDNY for his “dedication, leadership and self-sacrifice,” Woods was also awarded the New York State Honorary Fire Chiefs Association Medal.
Woods serves with Ladder Company 154 in Jackson Heights.
Honored also was Firefighter Brandon Froelich, assigned to Engine Company 265 on Beach 49th Street, who was awarded the William F. Conran Medal.
Assigned to Ladder Company 121 on the night of the storm, Froelich, with his fellow firefighters, were unable to proceed forward with their fire truck to reach an ambulance engulfed in water at Beach 35th Street and Beach Channel Drive. On board were two EMTs and a female patient.
Froelich and the others walked and swam though the rising tide.
While attempting to get to safety, the patient was swept almost 50 yards away by the swift moving hurricane waters.
Froelich spotted her and, without even any flotation gear, made his way through almost seven feet of water. The patient was clinging to a utility pole, holding on for her life, fearing she would be dragged away into the darkness by the waves.
After reaching the woman, the firefighter securely carried her three blocks to safety.
Said Battalion 47 Chief Michael McGrath, “If not for his quick actions, the woman would have perished.”
The Medal Day ceremony recognized the exemplary actions of Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services members all over the city.
Throughout the Rockaways, as in other hurricane hit areas, emergency service personnel had their own unique challenges.
This meant stalled fire trucks, water coming up to the windshields of 10 foot high rigs, downed electrical wires, dangerous floating debris, leaking gas and oil, rampant fires, and working in the dark when power went out. Storm surges even hit local firehouses, with floods rising more than five feet.
Still firefighters worked around the clock, even with relief unable to reach them. One unit worked until their fire truck ran out of gas, near dawn. Many operated on foot in dark, dangerous waters.
Fire companies also took part in peninsula relief efforts for weeks and months afterwards, living and working under the same conditions as many residents.
In recognition of this service, the FDNY awarded the Lieutenant James Curran/New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation Medal to Engine Company 268 and the Firefighter Thomas R. Elsasser Memorial Medal to Ladder Company 137.
Both operate out of the firehouse on Beach 116th Street.
Engine Company 268 honorees include Lieutenant Kevin O’Connor and Firefighters Michael Arbuiso, Glenn Bubenheimer, Matthew Kempton, Alex Khodai, Stephen Masom, Robert Schiff and William Smith.
Ladder Company honorees were Lieutenant Abimael Acosta and Firefighters Paul Calvo, Evan Davis, Kevin Dolan (Engine 266), Richard Ferrin and Casey Skudin.
“The decisive actions of Firefighters and Fire Officers during that haunting night,” noted the official FDNY Medal Day program, “added yet another prime example of the Department’s commitment to its traditions of duty, selflessness and courage.”
Also honored at the ceremony was Firefighter Brian Levings of Rockaways’ Engine Company 265.
During a tornado that touched down in Rockaway on September 8th, 2012, Levings and his company responded to a ‘person in the water’ call.
Braving whipping winds of up to 50 knots and eight to twelve foot waves,
Levings, a 12- year veteran lifeguard at Robert Moses State Park, entered the surf and was able to save the man who was 150 yards out and floating face down on the ocean.
Levings dragged the unconscious, 220 pound man back to shore, where he was revived.