Firefighter Braved 1,000-Degree Heat, Pulled Man Trapped in Building Through Flames to Safety

NY Daily News - December 13, 2010

by Patrice O'Shaughnessy

The only way out was through a room that glowed orange with flames.

The fire in the Brooklyn apartment was burning at 1,000 degrees, so hot that it cooked the usually impenetrable bunker coat Firefighter Peter Demontreux wore.

He and the man he found trapped in a back room charged through the searing heat in lockstep and made their way to a ladder outside the third-floor window.

Demontreux was burned; the man he rescued suffered second-degree burns over 40% of his body.

The man survived and is expected to recover. Demontreux went back to work at Ladder 132.

For his bravery and boldness, Demontreux is the Daily News Hero of the Month.

"I got away with a scratch compared to him," said the 30-year-old firefighter. "I'm glad he's alive."

Demontreux, with nearly nine years in the FDNY, responded with Ladder 132 to the arson blaze that engulfed 175 Putnam Ave. on Aug. 30.

"I went in the front door and upstairs, and on the third floor, a man said his friend was inside," Demontreux said. "I did a search with my right hand; there was zero visibility; it was getting hotter and hotter and hotter."

He could hear a man screaming, who was later identified as Clyde Matheny, 51.

"He was at the window of the back bedroom. I could hear him," Demontreux said. "I went to the front window where there was an aerial ladder and told Firefighter Richard Myers of Rescue 2 that it was so hot in here, and he started to break the windows.

"I go back in and do a search with my left hand along the wall. The smoke was lifting, and I could see the flames at ceiling level," Demontreux said.

"I went through the kitchen to the back bedroom, and I saw the man with his upper body out the window, trying to breathe. I was looking for the fire escape, a ladder, but there was nothing out there.

"He's at my left side; we go to the front room, and the whole thing turns orange.

"It was like someone turned the lights on."

He could feel his bunker coat catch fire, which FDNY officials said happens rarely.

"I was pulling him....We tripped up once," he recalled. "I had a good lock on his arm. I wanted to get out of there - and he was coming with me.

"We ran across the room in one motion. I could feel the burns, I could feel my face burning - it feels like people are sticking you with needles.

"But he was in worse shape."

They got to the front window, and Demontreux threw Matheny onto the aerial ladder. Firefighters brought Matheny down and rushed him to an ambulance - and they also put water on Demontreux.

"The FDNY safety people said the stitch that holds the sleeve where it meets the vest popped from the heat," said Demontreux, explaining how his coat melted. "They tested my gear, and the coat was up to 1,000 degrees."

Nine people were injured in the fire, which is still under investigation.

Demontreux was treated at the burn center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell for first-degree burns on his face and second-degree burns behind his left shoulder.

He returned weekly for treatment until early October, when he went back to work at the firehouse.

Matheny is still in the burn center.

"I went to see him and I didn't know what to expect," Demontreux said. "He was unconscious. They had just taken a breathing tube out.

"I took a look. I saw his face; he looked relatively good. I feel bad for him."

Demontreux said he would like to visit Matheny sometime, if he was agreeable.

Born and raised on Staten Island, Demontreux and his wife, Gina, a teacher, are parents of four kids all under the age of 5.

He took all the civil service tests [for the fire department] when he was 17 years old, then got a bachelor's degree in business at the College of Staten Island before joining the FDNY. He spent five years in Engine 248 before coming to Ladder 132.

Demontreux said he went back to the scene of the fire weeks later.

"I can't believe me and this guy fit through the narrow kitchen....Thank God there was a clear shot to the window."