Riverhead Town police officer Anthony Montalbano has only been on the force since 2013, but he already had something in common with 35-year veteran officer James Lydon before Sunday afternoon.
Both had saved a life at different times under separate dangerous conditions. Then, on Sunday, the men worked together on their second rescue.
The officers responded to a report of a fire around 4:10 p.m. at Oakland Ridge Mobile Home Park on Osborn Avenue, where they found smoke and flames.
Mr. Lydon, aware that the park’s mobile homes are fueled by propane tanks, began evacuating neighboring residents, while Mr. Montalbano attempted to gain entry through the front door.
But the more he kicked at the aluminum door, the more it became stuck as the metal bent. He then went over to a window and pushed in the air conditioning unit. When he didn’t see anyone, he went to another window and pushed in a second A/C unit.
That’s when he found resident Marek Staszek sleeping in a smoked-filled bedroom. Mr. Staszek’s mother and brother, who live with him, weren’t home.
“I just wanted to get him out of there,” Mr. Montalbano recalled in an interview Tuesday. “I yelled at him to wake up. He didn’t. I shook his arm and I told him, ‘Your house is on fire — you need to exit.’ ”
Once Mr. Staszek awoke, he was pulled from the window to safety.
Mr. Staszek and his family weren’t immediately available for comment. His brother, Mike Truszkowski, created a GoFundMe page to assist the family. (To donate, visit gofundme.com/MikeTruszkowski.)
Mr. Montalbano — an officer who helped rescue a man from the frigid Peconic Bay River in December 2014 — and Mr. Lydon — who saved children from a burning house along the riverfront shortly after joining the force — attributed Sunday’s success story to a well-coordinated effort with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Riverhead Fire Department.
“The fire department, EMS and police department do these types of things every day,” Mr. Montalbano said. “What happened on that day is no different than any other day. Each of those agencies strive to provide a professional service.”
Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps Chief Bill Wilkinson, who assisted in the rescue efforts, agreed that the working relationship between the departments is how a tragedy was averted.
“There’s really no time to think — you just do what you’re trained to do,” Mr. Wilkinson said, adding that Mr. Staszek was treated at the scene and released. “We feel terrible he lost his home, but he got his dog and has his health. Everyone did a real good job working together.”
Riverhead Fire Department Chief Kevin Brooks confirmed the structure fire started in the kitchen. The cause is under investigation by the Riverhead Town Fire Marshal’s Office.
The challenge with fires in mobile homes, Mr. Brooks explained, is that they tend to burn very quickly compared to other structures due to the materials they’re typically made from.
“Your clock is ticking even faster when you have to make a rescue,” he said of mobile home fires.
After firefighters cleared the home of any more people, they learned a dog was still trapped inside.
Ex-chief Frank Darrow then found the small dog, named Matt, hidden between a bed and a wall. At first, he thought the pet was unconscious.
“When I grabbed him, I realized he wasn’t when he tried to bite me,” Mr. Darrow said. “With this equipment, I couldn’t feel anything and knew he was just afraid.”
Mr. Darrow carried Matt outside and continued to hold him as the dog was given oxygen.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Darrow, who has been with the department since 1984, has rescued an animal.
A few years ago, he rescued chickens from a coop as a nearby home on Twomey Avenue in Calverton went up in flames. A week later, he responded to an apartment fire in Calverton Hills, where he rescued two pit bulls.
“With animals, you have to realize they are going to be afraid — they want to get out and sometimes they’ll be aggressive,” he said. “It’s always a good feeling saving any type of life.”
Before the scene at Sunday’s fire had officially wrapped up, Mr. Montalbano and Mr. Lydon had to quickly switch gears to respond to a different type of emergency.
Mr. Montalbano was cleared to answer other radio calls and responded to a report of a Riverhead man brandishing two handguns near a home on Northville Turnpike. Mr. Lydon, who initially had to remain at the scene of the fire, described the second call, which lasted nearly four hours, as “all hands on deck.”
“There’s no time to take a breath very often,” he said. “You have to be responsive to the radio. If there’s another call waiting, you have to be able to change gears from what you’re involved in and go to whatever is needed.”
Top photo: Riverhead Town police officers Anthony Montalbano, left, and James Lydon rescued a man found sleeping in a smoked-filled bedroom Sunday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)