Hero of the Month: 'Hang in there, honey!'

Fireman braves blazing debris, saves unconscious woman, 70

By PATRICE O'SHAUGHNESSY
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

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.

Firefighter William Porter burst through the door of an East Side apartment filled with smoke and flames. Burning floor-to-ceiling clutter suddenly illuminated the small, still figure of an elderly woman.

"It was my chance," Porter said later. "I saw her and I grabbed her."

He crawled across the room over red-hot debris and dragged her out before the engine company arrived and doused the fire.

For disregarding his own safety and rescuing the badly burned victim, Porter is the Daily News Hero of the Month.

On Nov. 5, shortly before __8 a.m., Porter, 44, a firefighter with Ladder 7 on E. 29th St. for 12 years, was with members of his company on their rig, returning from a stuck-elevator job.

As they came down E. 23rd St., they smelled smoke, and one firefighter spotted it coming from the high-rise building at 401 First Ave.

They rarely answer a call by smelling smoke; in this case, it proved more effective than any high-tech notice.

"It's very lucky we were right there," Porter said. "We got our stuff and we were running into the building, and the computer on the rig started beeping with the run."

The firefighters took the elevator to the 11th floor and ran up to 13, where they saw the burning apartment. Porter was on the forcible entry team, which quickly broke open the door to a studio flat engulfed by scorching heat.

Porter immediately went in, encountering piles of clutter and papers stacked nearly to the ceiling.

"I saw her amid burning debris; there was paper lighting spontaneously all around her," he said. "Paper was lighting as we entered the room