Riverhead man airlifted from fire; 7-year-old calls 911

The damaged home was boarded up in spots Friday morning. (Credit: Michael White)
The damaged home was boarded up in spots Friday morning. (Credit: Michael White)

Firefighters pulled an unconscious man from a house fire in Riverhead late Thursday after a woman and two small children escaped unharmed, Riverhead Town police said.

Shanon Garcia-Donis and her children — a 7-year-old and 6-month-old — were all home in a second-floor apartment of the Middle Road house when the fire broke out in the first floor just before 11:30 p.m., police said.

The 7-year-old called in the report that smoke was coming from the back of the house’s first-floor apartment.

Jennifer Ponce told News 12 Long Island she learned how to make 911 emergency calls in elementary school through a volunteer fire department training program.

When asked by a News 12 reporter what she told police, Jennifer responded: “I said the house had gone on fire and I said the address.”

When the reporter told the girl people in the community are calling her a hero, Jennifer said with a smile, “I feel good.”

Ms. Garcia-Donis and the two children were outside when police arrived.

Riverhead firefighters found 30-year-old Matej Petrak unconscious on the first floor, police said.

Kevin Brooks, first assistant chief of the Riverhead Fire Department, said when crews arrived on scene they immediately began extinguishing the fire in the kitchen, located in the rear of the house.

That allowed two firefighters, J.R. Renton and Kevin Burgess, to search for Mr. Petrak, who was found unconscious on a living room couch.

Mr. Brooks said it was a struggle to pull Mr. Petrak, a larger man, to safety, especially since he was unconscious.

“It was like dead weight,” he said.

Mr. Brooks said Mr. Petrak was having difficult time breathing, though he didn’t notice any burn wounds.

Mr. Petrak was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center by ambulance before being airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation, police and firefighters said.

Suffolk police said Mr. Petrak’s airlift was cut short due to “deteriorating weather conditions,” and the helicopter was forced to land in Islip Town. He had to be transported via Stony Brook University Ambulance, police said, though police could not immediately confirm which hospital he was transported to.

Mr. Petrak’s condition and location was unclear as of Friday morning.

Riverhead Fire Department Chief Joe Raynor said crews arrived on scene within two minutes of receiving the call.

“They did a very good job,” Mr. Raynor said.

Ms. Garcia-Donis, 32, and the children were taken to Peconic Bay for routine medical evaluation but were uninjured.

Riverhead detectives and Suffolk County Police Department’s Arson Squad determined the fire originated on the first-floor apartment’s kitchen stove.

A man who lives on the Timothy Hill Ranch property, to the immediate east of the house, said he was awoken by a phone call from a Ranch employee asking if it was his house that was on fire.

The neighbor, who declined to give his name, then looked outside to see “smoke pouring out of the house.”

“It was just very smokey,” he said Friday morning.

By that time, emergency vehicles were on scene, he said. He did not know the victims.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the male victim as related to the other three occupants in the home.

Police tape blocked off the home Friday morning. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)
Police tape blocked off the home Friday morning. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)