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91-02 197th Street - Hollis Queens - New York 11423
 
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Company Officers Association Medal

Lieutenant Thomas P. Kuefner
Ladder Company 150

March 2, 2002, 1315 hours
Box 75-5459
91-35 193rd Street, Queens
Appointed to the FDNY on September 14, 1968. Previously assigned to Engines 5 and 277 and Ladders 155 and 112. Son, Steven, is a FF assigned to Ladder 155 and father, Anthony, is a retired FF from Ladder 162. Member of the Steuben Association. Cited for bravery 17 times previously. Served in the U.S. Coast Guard. Resides in Commack, Long Island, with his wife, Susan, and their children, Steven and Dawn.  
 
March 2, 2002, was a quiet Sunday for Lieutenant Thomas P. Kuefner and the “Hollis Hogs” of Ladder 150 until a fire was reported early that afternoon. At approximately 1315 hours, the Company was notified of a fire at Box 5459 in the Hollis section of Queens. The incident building, located at 91-35 193rd Street, was a seven-story, non-fireproof, multiple dwelling, containing 85 apartments with a fire on the top floor.  
 
While responding, Ladder 150 was notified that people were trapped on the rear fire escape. On arrival, Lieutenant Kuefner and the inside team raced into the building and found that the elevator car was not in the lobby. Believing that speed and decisive action were necessary, Lieutenant Kuefner led his team, including FFs Sean Sammon (can) and Michael J. Razukiewicz (irons), up the seven flights of stairs to the fire floor.
 
Before the team reached the second floor, they were notified of a trapped victim hanging out the window of the fire apartment and enduring a heavy smoke condition. Reaching the fire floor, the Lieutenant and Firefighters found a medium smoke condition with the main amount of smoke emanating from the north end of the hall at apartment 6-L.
 
Before forcing the door, Lieutenant Kuefner roped the apartment’s doorknob to better control it, knowing it would be some time before a hose-line could be brought into action (due to the long and difficult stretch up scissor stairs). As the door was forced, the members encountered a heavy smoke condition and--with a new supply of oxygen entering the apartment--the fire immediately intensified, engulfing the kitchen and going over the rescuers’ heads.
 

Three generations of firefighting Kuefners:
Lieutenant Thomas, FF Steven, assigned to Ladder 155,
and FF Anthony, retired from Ladder 162 since 1960.
(photo courtesy of Lieutenant Thomas P. Kuefner)
 
FF Sammon opened the can to try to hold back the fire, while Lieutenant Kuefner and FF Razukiewicz crawled into the inferno to search for the victim. As Lieutenant Kuefner probed straight ahead, he heard the distinct sound of glass breaking and realized it must be from the outside vent man. He turned to feel for another room and on hearing cries for help to his left, he found the bedroom. Entering the room, he found Mervin Berrian halfway out the window and highly agitated. To keep Mr. Berrian from jumping to his death, Lieutenant Kuefner forcibly grabbed him and tried to calm him. However, due to the heavy smoke and heat condition in the rest of the apartment, Lieutenant Kuefner knew the victim could not be removed until the fire was knocked down.
 
Therefore, the Lieutenant ordered FF Razukiewicz to exit the room, close the door behind him and stay with FF Sammon until the can was empty. At that time, they were to vacate the apartment, ensuring that the door did not lock behind them.
 
Lieutenant Kuefner then stayed with the victim, forcibly holding onto him until the fire was knocked down and the smoke and heat condition subsided. Mr. Berrian, suffering from smoke inhalation, then was assisted from the apartment and taken by EMS personnel to Jamaica Hospital.
 
In his report of the incident, Deputy Chief Rup of Division 13 noted that Lieutenant Kuefner’s action “...placed him at unusual personal risk by going past the fire without the protection of a hose-line. By sheltering the victim in place, he also put his path of exit in jeopardy in the calculated risk that an Engine Company would extinguish the fire quickly.”
 
In recognition of this selfless act, the New York City Fire Department is proud to honor Lieutenant Thomas P. Kuefner today with the Company Officers Association Medal. —DH

 
 
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