Boston Firefighters Praised for Rescue

Updated: 01-03-2008 10:10:53 AM

The Boston Herald

Heroic Hub firefighters, still feeling the heat from last fall's drug and alcohol scandal, showed their true mettle as they dodged death to pluck a disabled South Boston woman from a deadly New Year's Eve inferno.

With flames at their back and the threat of the five-story Emerson Street building collapsing, firefighters from Ladder 17 in the Back Bay scrambled to rescue an elderly woman trapped on the third floor.

``It was a great act of heroism,'' said Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Finn.

As flames shot out and thick smoke billowed from the building, firefighters raced up the fire escape to the third floor after hearing reports that someone was trapped, Finn said.

The jakes carried out a frantic room-to-room search and found the woman in her apartment, disoriented after breathing in smoke.

They scooped her up and carried her to a window that led to the fire escape - but they weren't yet in the clear, according to Finn.

``They hauled her out of the window but we had to spray the hose line on them to keep the fire from licking at their boots,'' Finn said.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday heaped praise on the 160 firefighters who battled for more than 12 hours before they finally got the blaze under control at 7:30 a.m. yesterday.

``Last night, they proved again their bravery by rushing into a burning building to save a handicapped woman's life,'' Menino said. ``They did their job and did it well, and I'm very proud of the dangerous work they do for the safety of our residents.''

Their bravery comes after the department's reputation was rocked when two firefighters, who died tackling an August blaze in a West Roxbury restaurant, were found to have traces of alcohol or drugs in their systems.

Firefighter Warren Payne was found with cocaine in his system and firefighter Paul Cahill had a high blood-alcohol level, according to officials briefed on the autopsy results.

A three-member panel commissioned by Menino has since recommended that Hub firefighters undergo random drug and alcohol testing.

The seven-alarm New Year's Eve blaze began at 7:42 p.m. in a rear, first-floor unit occupied by Peter C. Clancy, 47, who died of cardiac arrest, and his wife Arvette Clancy, whose body was recovered yesterday. The couple left three children, ages 21, 18 and 15, but only the two teens were living with them.

The fire's cause is still under investigation, but fire officials consider the blaze suspicious.

City Councilor-at-large Michael Flaherty's wife's aunt, Kathy Curley, 53, was among the 28 people left homeless after losing everything in the blaze.

``Being at the scene of the tragic fire, I was reminded of the critical and heroic service our firefighters and other first responders provide our city,'' Flaherty said.

Resident Mike Burggren, 45, also sang the praises of the Boston Fire Department. ``They did a great job because there were flames leaping out of the back of the building.''$57741