Firefighter saves lives from Afghanistan to Ozone Park

Photo by Kathy Kmonicek

On his first day back on the job since returning from Afghanistan, firefighter James Denniston became part of a rescue team that saved four lives from a burning building.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 16, members of Engine Co. 285 were called to a fire in a three-story building at 110-10 Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park, where a 40-year-old woman and three children, ages 8, 7 and 5, were trapped. Denniston, together with Lieutenant Brian Santosus and firefighters Richard Faraci, Dennis O’Keefe and Jean Tanis, responded to the call by jumping out of their truck, grabbing ladders and bringing the family to safety.

Denniston said upon their arrival they saw people hanging from the windows and once the first hose was in operation, he and the other members rushed to help the victims. Together as a team, Tanis rescued two people from the third floor, O’Keefe helped a woman also on the third floor and Denniston grabbed a small ladder to rescue someone from the second floor.

Denniston was finishing up his overnight shift on his first tour back to his Queens firehouse. He had been stationed in Afghanistan for three months with the 101st Rescue Squadron of the New York Air National Guard. This group, made up of four FDNY firefighters, was sent to over 50 missions, tending to wounded soldiers and saving close to 100 lives.

“It was the last thing I expected,” said Denniston in a statement about the “overwhelming” experience of the fire rescue on Saturday. “It wasn’t something that when I went to work after being away for a while I thought would happen.”

He also added that this rescue was unusual for most firefighters that work on an engine company because they normally focus on extinguishing the blaze rather than operating in rescues.

“It was a humbling experience for me to be back and part of such a good team,” he said.

All four victims of the fire were taken to Jamaica Hospital with minor injuries and the cause of the fire still remains under investigation by FDNY fire marshals.