RAHWAY, NJ — Rahway firefighters Chief Charles Leone, Capt. Theodore Padavno, Capt. Brian Thornton, Capt. Richard Fleischman, Eric Gustofson, Christopher Hammell, Jamal Burden, Andrew Shunway and Jimmy Thornton have been selected to receive the state FMBA Valor Award for rescuing a civilian and a Rahway police officer from a house fire in March 2016. They extinguished the fire from the original building, in addition to the neighboring home, which also caught fire.
“I think it’s important to recognize the job these men do everyday and I think it’s equally important for the residents of the town to know the job well done by our Fire Department,” Fleischman told LocalSource in an email on March 4.
The team responded to a call for a structure fire when they discovered there was a woman trapped inside the building.
“We got a call around 4:17 a.m. for a structure fire,” Leone told LocalSource in a phone interview on March 12. “While we were on route, we found out a woman was trapped inside the building. Shunway and Padavno pulled out the woman and the police officer, who were trapped in the building. An officer had arrived on scene first and attempted to rescue the woman, but became a victim himself. We will be presented with the award on April 22. Everybody says it’s just part of our job, but it’s nice to be recognized for a job well done. We worked well together as a team. There should have been at least 25 firefighters on the scene, but we put out two fires and rescued two people with just nine men on the scene.”
The firefighters were able to do their job successfully by working together as a team.
“Everything is a team effort,” Burden told LocalSource on the phone on March 12. “We stayed together and went in with the line to put out the fire as fast and as best as we could. Thornton and I went in first and a backup team arrived a few minutes later. We were in and out the building for a while.”
Padavno described what it was like to be on the scene.
“I was on the crew that went inside to rescue the two people,” Padavno told LocalSource in a phone interview on March 12. “There was black smoke from the floor to the ceiling. Luckily, the person was in one of two rooms that weren’t on fire. We went into the hallway, which was half on fire, through the kitchen and to the back bedroom. We were minutes away from the building going up in flames. It was close.”
Shunway also spoke about his work and the award he will receive.
“We got to the house fire and there were two victims,” Shunway told LocalSource on the phone on March 12. “One was an 88-year-old blind woman and the other was a Rahway police officer, who were both overcome when we found them. It feels pretty good to be recognized, but we were really just doing our job. We got the two people out pretty fast. It was no more than 5 or 6 minutes. The two fires took about 40 minutes to get under control.”
Fleischman describes how the situation escalated as they arrived at the scene.
“This incident just kept getting bigger as we responded,” Fleischman told LocalSource in an email on March 12. “It started as a confirmed house fire and then a person trapped inside and a missing police officer. When we arrived on the scene, we found a second house on fire. It was a lot to ask, with our shift being at minimum manning that night. Everything worked in our favor. It could have been much worse. I am proud of all the members who ‘just did their jobs.’
“It is truly an honor to be recognized by our peers for a job well done. I can honestly tell you that this is what we all hope to accomplish when we take the job of a firefighter, to truly make a difference for someone, and I think we did it that evening! I also think it’s important for the residents of our city to see and understand that they have an incredible professional resource available to them at any moment we are called to duty, putting our lives at risk to make a difference for others. We love our job and they say, if you love what you do, you never really work a day in your life.”