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FDNY Chief Praises Volunteers Who Rescued WaHi Man From Burning Apartment

By Nigel Chiwaya | September 16, 2013 4:06pm | Updated on September 17, 2013 3:37pm
Washington Heights Rescue Video
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Youtube/John Del Signore

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — A team of volunteers rescued a man from a burning building before the Fire Department arrived, pulling him to safety on an extension ladder, fire officials said Monday.

FDNY Battalion Chief Anthony Montera lauded Frank Gonzalez, 42, and Gaurdencio Portillo for their quick action in responding to a man trapped on the fifth floor of a building at West 172nd Street near Broadway around noon Monday.

"These guys were heads up," Montera said. The man, whose identity was not immediately released, was taken to the hospital with minor injuries and is expected to recover.

Gonzalez, who lives next door to the blaze, said he was in the alley behind his building around noon trying to catch a stray kitten for his aunt when he heard the sound of glass breaking.

 Frank Gonzalez and Gaurdencio Portillo saved the man from his burning fifth-floor apartment Monday.
WaHi man saved by Good Samaritans
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"I heard a big crash in the apartment and I saw a bunch of debris falling. Next thing you know I hear the guy screaming," said Gonzalez, who sprang into action, racing up to the fifth floor where he and the victim's brother began trying to break down the apartment door.

When they failed, they headed down to the fourth floor, where neighbor Portillo was waiting with an extension ladder.

Together, the three extended the ladder from the fourth-floor fire escape to a window right below the window of the burning apartment. With Gonzalez and Portillo holding it steady, the victim's brother raced across the ladder and helped his brother lower himself down. Firefighters arrived on scene in time to help the men back to the fire escape.

"It was struggle but we got the guy out," Gonzalez said. "He was shaking. If he was up there another minute I thought he wasn't going to make it."

Gonzalez chalked his heroics up to being in the right place at the right time.

"Can you believe it?" Gonzalez said. "All because I was looking to get a cat."