Hero of the month: His ladder of success

Job switch leads fireman to lifesaving rescue, *********


Hero of the Month spotlights those men and women, civil servants and civilians, who go beyond the call of duty to make New York a better place.

It was just about sunrise and the temperature below 10 degrees when then-Firefighter Richard Davan ascended an aerial ladder to the smoke-enveloped top of a Bedford-Stuyvesant building. He knew there were people trapped inside.

Davan made his way through the blackness across the roof and over the side to the rear fire escape, then climbed down and into a third-floor window.

Feeling along the floor of the smoke-filled apartment, he came upon a person, shined his flashlight and saw the face of a young girl knocked unconscious from smoke inhalation.

Davan slung her over his shoulder and got her out of the smoky room, and an ambulance sped her to the hospital.

After more than a dozen years in Engine 234, Davan had switched to Ladder 123 in the same firehouse on St. John's Place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, because he wanted to broaden his experience.

Engine members don't have as many opportunities to rescue people as their counterparts on the truck, who enter first to clear the way for the water hoses.

He has seen his share of lifeless people at fire scenes, so his first big rescue "felt great," said Davan, 41, who was promoted to lieutenant two weeks ago.

"But who knows ... if they reported the fire a little later or if I didn't find her ...," he wondered. "But I just did what any of the guys would do; that's what it's all about."

For fast thinking under fire that led to saving a child's life, Davan is the Daily News Hero of the Month.

"It was a terrific rescue," said FDNY Chief of Operations Salvatore Cassano. "At 6:30 a.m., you know people are in there sleeping, and you don't have much time to react. You have to be really thinking on your feet. Had it not been for his quick thinking, she probably would be lost."

The two-alarm blaze broke out just before 6:30 a.m. Jan. 23 on the second floor of the four-story building on Fulton St. Ladder 123 - its numbers coincidentally matching the date - pulled up, after a night of responding to several small fires. "The whole week had been a very busy period, with the cold, and people using space heaters," Davan said.

Davan, on the FDNY for 15 years, was to get to the rear to ventilate the building.

"There was heavy fire on the second and third floors," Davan said. "People were coming out from the building next door, and they said the rear door was locked, so I thought it would take too much time to go through there to get to the back of the fire building."

Davan went up the aerial ladder, which was extended to about 60 feet high, to the rooftop. The fire had incinerated the second floor and damaged the third. As it spread, smoke billowed up the stairwell and elevator shaft.

He entered a broken window to the kitchen, put his air mask on and dropped to his knees and started to search. In the living room, he felt a couch and then a love seat, and searched behind the love seat. There was the girl, later identified as 8-year-old Donna Jones. She was lying beneath a closed window. She apparently had intended to escape through it.

"I radioed that I found her, and by then Ladder 123 was inside" the house, Davan said. "I told the probie [rookie], Brian Stack, to take her legs, and I held her under the arms - she was long - and we took her down the stairs."

It took about 35 minutes, Davan estimated, but "it seemed like hours."

The girl suffered smoke inhalation. She was taken to Kings County Hospital, then transferred to the hyperbaric chamber at Jacobi Medical Center. Davan called Jacobi the next day and found out she had been released. He hopes to get in contact with her.

"I felt good to hear that she was out of the hospital," he said. "She was in tough shape. When I saw her in the ambulance they said she was breathing, so I felt good."

The girl's mother was brought out of the building by members of Rescue 2. She was taken to Interfaith Medical Center.

Davan is one of a firefighting clan. His father, Robert Davan, is a retired captain; brother Gerry Davan is a retired lieutenant; brother-in-law Michael Thompson is a captain; brother Brian Davan is a lieutenant at Ladder 28 in Harlem, and a nephew, Ryan Davan, a firefighter at Engine 93 in Washington Heights.

"When I came home that night, my three kids met me at the door; they were very excited," Richard Davan said. "My 7-year-old daughter said, 'Daddy, you saved a little girl.'"

A closer look
Richard Davan

Background: Age 41; raised in a firefighting family; born in Manhattan, lived in Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn; attended All Hallows High School.
Family: Married to Jean, they are the parents of Emily, 7, Ashlyn, 4, and Andrew, 2.

Originally published on February 10, 2003