Fourteen years after saving the life a Lubavitcher teenager from a burning house in Crown Heights, now retired firefighter Joseph Scaramuzzino realized that his time with the FDNY meant something.
14-years ago, on February 8th 2002, a fast moving fire tore through the Swerdlove’s home on Crown Street just off Kingston Avenue in the middle of the night. The Friedman brothers, who were sleeping in their grandparents home at the time, were rescued by firefighters.
One brother, Zalman Friedman who was then 17-years-old, was trapped on the second floor. Flames and bars on the windows blocked the exits. Joseph Scaramuzzino, then a firefighter with ladder company 113 based on Rogers Avenue and Midwood Street, ran into the burning building and used his own body to shield Friedman from the flames – saving his life while suffering burns of his own.
“After 9/11, I asked God, ‘Why did you leave me here?’” Scaramuzzino, who lost two nephews and a cousin when hijacked jets slammed into the twin towers told the Daily News. “On Feb. 8, 2002, at 4:21 in the morning, I found my purpose.”
Now, fourteen years later, Scaramuzzino met up with Friedman and his 5-week-old daughter Raizel at a Canarsie Chabad house for the first time since saving him.
At the event the firefighters recalled that harrowing day:
“When we walked in, the fire was on the first floor and the flames were lapping up the stairs. Firefighter David Martin knocked back the flames with an extinguisher and we ran up to find the kids. It was very hot, and the smoke was so thick, we had no sight at all.
“I followed faint sounds to find one of the brothers. Normally I would have taken him to the window, but they were barred.
“The stairs were the only way out but the fire was coming up the steps we needed to go down. I put my body over his, told him to hold on, and dived down the stairs. It was do or die,” said Retired FDNY Firefighter Joseph Scaramuzzino of Ladder 113, recalling the time that he and retired Lieutenant Ralph Tufano, also of Ladder 113, saved the lives of two teenage brothers at a home on Crown Street in Brooklyn, in the early morning hours of February 8, 2002.
Lt. Tufano said, “I felt my way to a bedroom door and found the other brother by the bed, gasping for air and trying to find a way out. He was slipping in and out of consciousness. I knew we had to go as quickly as possible. I shielded myself with my gear, placed him between my body and the wall, and I ran.
You never forget a day like that.” Firefighter Scaramuzzino and Lt. Tufano were reunited earlier this week with one of the brothers that they saved on that day nearly 14 years ago, along with family members in Brooklyn.
The second brother joined the reunion by telephone. Zalman Friedman, who was saved by Firefighter Scaramuzzino, added, “I tried to go down the stairs on my own, but I saw a wall of fire, and I had to turn back around. I heard a Firefighter yell, ‘Is anybody up there?’ and I tried to answer, but when I opened my mouth to scream, it filled with smoke and no sound came out.
He yelled again, and I tried to answer, but the smoke inhalation was too much. I saw the light of a flashlight, and I remembering being rolled down the stairs. He saved me. The Fire Department saved us. I was 17 years old and I remember it so well.”