Fundraiser underway for fire victims who were rescued by two RFD volunteers

Riverhead friends and neighbors are rallying around two elderly Polish Town residents who were rescued in dramatic fashion from a burning building last week. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than $7,000 had been pledged toward a $20,000 GoFundMe campaign goal to benefit fire victims Krystyna Borowska and Krystyna Zielinska.

Bozena Mahmoud of Hampton Bays, who set up the campaign, wrote on the fundraising page that the women “lost everything” in the fire. 

Ms. Mahmoud said the women were tenants, so insurance money won’t cover any of their personal losses. 

“They both have been a part of the Polish community in Riverhead on the East End of Long Island, N.Y., for a few decades now,” she wrote. “The fire destroyed everything they owned and they need help with every basic need. Most importantly, they need a place to live.”

Two Riverhead firefighters were luckily nearby when the fast-moving blaze broke out in a second-floor apartment above the Western Union store on Pulaski Street. 

J.R. Renten and Frank Greenwood, both of whom also work for the Riverhead Highway Department, were on duty at a job on Pulaski Street when they noticed the fire.

“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Mr. Renten, the fire department’s first assistant chief and a 35-year firefighter, who downplayed the rescue. 

“We helped the ladies out, and then the fire department showed up,” he said in an interview. “Nobody got seriously hurt, although it’s a shame that they lost their house.”

The Riverhead Fire Department, he noted, “is very good at what we do.” 

Mr. Greenwood, a Riverhead firefighter for 10 years, recalled the scene in a separate interview. 

“We’ve been fixing sidewalks and replacing pavers and stuff like that to try and make everything look good,” he said. “On the day of the fire, a woman ran out of the insurance place and said she saw flames in the window of a house on Pulaski Street. So she started screaming. We paid no attention to it until we heard her scream and she pointed at the flames.” 

The men ran toward the burning building, yelling for people to call 911, Mr. Greenwood recalled. 

They were told that there were people inside the burning building, and quickly located a door to the upper floor, he said.

“As soon as [Mr. Renten] he opened the door,” Mr. Greenwood said, “it was just completely smoked out. We could see the fire in the distance. We quickly got one of the ladies out.” 

They turned and saw another woman banging on the glass from the smoky second floor. 

“I screamed, ‘J.R., we’ve got another one!’ ” Mr. Greenwood said. 

Both men ran back up — neither was wearing firefighting gear or an oxygen pack — and helped the second woman to safety. 

By their second trip up the stairs, the conditions had gotten a lot worse, Mr. Greenwood said. “It’s definitely a different world going in without any gear or oxygen pack or anything,” he said.

Once the firetrucks arrived, they were able to quickly knock the fire down, he added. 

“We are a good fire department,” Mr. Renten said. “This is what we’re trained to do.”

“Anybody in the department could’ve been there and would’ve done the same thing,” Mr. Greenwood said.

The GoFundMe page is listed in the name of the fire victims: Krystyna Borowska and Krystyna Zielinska.