September 11, 2002 --

On a cold morning last December, Ladder Co. 55 in The Bronx responded to a fire in an abandoned, wood-frame building near their firehouse.

Flames had engulfed the first floor, trapping a squatter who lived on the second floor.

Firefighter Christopher DiBiase - nominated for the New York Post's Bravest Liberty Medal - was able to set up a 24-foot aluminum extension ladder to reach the man, whose head was sticking out of a small window.

"The other windows were boarded up with plywood," he said. "I couldn't get to the guy."

Flames were shooting out of the building and the trapped man was breathing in smoke.

When DiBiase reached the roof, he found a trap door with a ladder into the building and climbed down. Through the thick smoke, DiBiase searched the rooms, finally finding the disoriented man.

"All I was thinking about was getting up on the roof and finding the guy," said DiBiase, 40, an 11-year FDNY veteran.

Flames blocked the stairs, so he forced the squatter back up the ladder and to the safety of the roof.

"It was a terrific save," said Capt. Francis Mannion of Ladder 55, who nominated DiBiase for the Liberty Medal. "What he did was way beyond the normal call of duty."

Mannion noted DiBiase was awarded the FDNY's medal for bravery, for putting his own life in grave personal danger.