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Bayside fireman given honors for rescuing boy

By Rich Bockmann

For his valiant and determined effort in the line of duty, Firefighter Antonio Velez was recognized last week as he stood among his fellow firefighters and the father and son whose lives were touched by his bravery.

Antonio Velez, a seven-year veteran with Engine Co. No. 320 in Bayside, received a City Council proclamation from Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) recognizing his “exemplary bravery” in pulling 12-year-old Jesse Iacovetta from his father’s burning apartment, at 45-29 202nd St., in Bayside in the early hours of Jan. 19.

“I want to thank Firefighter Antonio Velez for saving my son’s life,” said Billy Iacovetta. “We can never really repay what Tony’s done or what they do every day.”

Halloran’s brothers, Patrick and Terrance are firefighters in Brooklyn, and his cousin Vincent Halloran gave his life as an FDNY lieutenant on 9/11. The councilman took the opportunity to thank Velez and all the firefighters he works with for their bravery day-in and day-out.

Iacovetta said he was not far from home that morning, driving to work when his son called in a panic and said there was a fire in the apartment’s living room. He told Jesse to try to get outside, but the front door was locked and the dark smoke that had consumed the apartment made it impossible for the young boy to escape. Iacovetta called 911, and Engine 320 and Ladder 167 were dispatched to the scene.

“We got the call and as we turned the corner, I saw smoke inside,” Velez recounted. “[Ladder] 167 had to breach the door and they started doing their search.”

Velez said he was assigned to the nozzle position of the engine, and as he was waiting for the hose to be primed, he could hear screaming coming from inside.

With the firefighters of Ladder 167 struggling to enter through the rear of the building, Velez said he got confirmation from his lieutenant and then handed the nozzle off to his partner before entering the smoke-filled building.

“Everything happened so fast,” Velez said. He first encountered the Iacovettas’ unconscious cat, and feared the worst for whoever was yelling inside. “I crawled in about 10 to 15 feet and went right to him.”

Velez said he pulled Jesse out of the front door and then handed him off to an EMT before returning to his position on the hose to extinguish the fire.

Jesse suffered burns on his arms and neck for which he received skin grafts, and spent the next 22 days in the hospital.

“The first thing he said when he woke up out of it was, ‘Can I see the firefighter who saved me?’” his father said.

Iacovetta’s sister found Velez’s name in the newspaper, and soon after sought him out on Facebook. Jesse and his savior formed a friendship, and on April 9 Velez came to the young boy’s Forest Hills Bombers Little League game and threw out the first pitch.

Wearing his uniform to the firehouse last week, Jesse sat next to Velez after the ceremony as the company and its guests shared a generous lunch.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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