The date of Sept. 11 is set aside to remember the nations heroes on one of the nation’s most tragic days.
New Castle had its own two heroes Saturday after fire broke out inside a Westview Terrace apartment on the city’s West Side.
City firemen Marco Bulisco and Frank DiGennaro managed to save the lives of two women by carrying them out of the smoke-filled upstairs of the burning apartment — one was unconscious — while other firefighters were arriving on scene.
According to fire reports, the city fire department was called around 4:50 a.m. to an end apartment in the 900 building of Westview Terrace.
According to both Bulisco, 29, and DiGennaro, 40, they arrived to find flames coming from the kitchen and smoke coming out the windows of the second floor of the residence. They quickly handled a hose and doused the flames in the kitchen, then quickly executed a search of the first floor, then the second floor, looking for anyone who might have been inside.
Upstairs, they found a semiconscious 34-year-old Lakeiva Washington in the front bedroom, crawling on the floor toward the door and trying to get out, Bulisco said, and another woman, 28-year-old Brooke Stafford, was unconscious on the bed.
They guided Washington down the steps to the outside, where she quickly regained her ability to walk. Then they carried the still-unconscious Stafford down the steps, “through zero visibility and heavy smoke,” Bulisco said, and they delivered her to ambulance personnel who were waiting to take over.
“It was a difficult situation,” Bulisco said of getting Stafford out. Because of her state, “it wasn’t easy to get her out of the door.”
Bulisco and DiGennaro were two of six firefighters at the scene, and they returned to join the others to continue putting out the fire, once the women were rescued and in safe hands.
Bulisco said that when they initiated the upstairs search and found the women, they hadn’t known whether anyone was in the apartment or not, but they followed their training to the letter.
Washington was treated at the scene but refused hospital transport. Stafford was taken by Noga Ambulance to UPMC Jameson Hospital, where she was admitted. Information about her condition was unavailable Sunday afternoon.
Bulisco, 29, has been a full-time fireman since 2013, and DiGennaro, 40, has been a part-time firefighter since 2017. The two have been close friends for many years, and play music together in the local band, Kut Loose.
“Our rescue was successful because of intense training, repetition and experience,” Bulisco said. “We have a lot of fires in New Castle, and our guys are extremely well trained. This was an example of everything going right.”
This was Bulisco’s second time successfully saving a life since he has been a city fireman. The first was at a fire in February 2015 on Winter Avenue, when a woman was carried out of a burning home and taken to a hospital.
“It doesn’t matter if we don’t have a lot of guys available,” Bulisco said, “We have no margin for error.”
The other four firefighters on scene Saturday were doing their respective jobs of setting up water and hoses to fight the fire.
“The primary search (inside) is one of our most important tasks,” Bulisco said. “Our number-one job is to save people, as long as we can get into the burning building.”
DiGennaro said he has learned a lot from Bulisco and other firefighters who teach by example. He and Bulisco were close friends before he joined the fire department, and they work well together.
He said they followed fire department protocol and that after they took both women out of the burning apartment, one at a time, they went back in and conducted a secondary search to make sure no one was missed.
“That was my first rescue,” DiGennaro said, adding that he appreciates working with his fellow firefighters who know what they are doing and have gone through the training. He said also is appreciative of being able to follow their lead of and learn from some of the more experienced firefighters on the team.
“The New Castle Fire Department has some great guys,” he said.
According to a city fire report, the blaze appeared to have started on the kitchen stove with an unattended pot of grease.
The fire damage was confined to the kitchen.
Assistant chief Shawn Johnson reported Sunday that the fire damage was contained to the kitchen but the rest of the apartment had heavy smoke damage.
The cause of the fire appears to have been unintentional, and is being investigated by the New Castle police, according to the fire report.