Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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The first firefighters on the scene came in a pick-up truck and stepped out to see children running and screaming and bleeding, and a house tipped over on its side, the first floor of a story-and-a-half seemingly disappeared, its roof collapsed down upon the debris and a car in the driveway. There was a strong odor of natural gas, a sparking electric wire on the ground, a small fire in the back of the house, and the air temperature was a record-setting 94 degrees.


               That’s what they rolled up on at the Carbon Street job.


               It was Tuesday about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and fate had called upon the Syracuse Fire Department to show what it was made of.



               It was a tiny house, three or four car lengths back from the street, a block away from the intersection of Park and Butternut on the tough northside. They would later learn it was two families of refugees from the same camp in Myanmar. One placed in the home some five years ago and the other, arriving in Syracuse less than two weeks ago, come over to celebrate the last day of Eid Al-Adha. That is a Muslim holy day which, from a child’s standpoint, has a joyous spirit similar to Christmas and Hannukah. Then there was an explosion. That’s what neighbors said. A bang and a collapse and 911 calls in a language that neither the dispatcher nor the responding firefighters understood.


               That’s what they rolled up on. Two minutes and 53 seconds after the first 911 call, that’s what Engine 2 rolled up on.


               And what followed is one of the purest demonstrations of capability, courage and compassion in recent memory. This was one of those that, decades from now when they are old and bent, they will recall with a lump in their throats, moved that they had been part of something so powerful, noble and good.


               You’ve got a tottering building, as many as 20 injured people, the potential for further explosions, unknown individuals trapped in unknown locations, and you’re wearing turnout gear on the hottest day in a couple of years, and this is going to be a long fight. And they responded brilliantly.


               With what must have been expert fire-scene command and the fruit of years of intense training, some went to stabilize the shattered house, others searched out and gathered up crushed and burned children and parents, some crawled into the flattened car to treat a critically injured child, others tended to the fire in the back, and still others took care of the gas and the electric wire.


               All while the first-responder community of Syracuse leapt into action at the declaration of a mass-casualty incident. AMR, the ambulance company, moved its fleet to the scene, at Upstate University Hospital they mobilized and awaited the stream of paramedics and patients. The police came and the neighborhood watched and the Syracuse Fire Department searched and searched and searched.


               For hours.


               As firefighters moved deeper into the rubble, they cribbed and stabilized and probed.


               Ultimately, they would send four adults and eight children to the hospital, a wave of burns and crush injuries washing into the emergency department, carried by a screaming stream of ambulances and the skilled medics who staffed them. A 3-year-old, a 2-year-old and an 8-month-old were most seriously injured and remain in critical condition.

  To make sure they got everyone, third-generation Syracuse firefighter Dave Corbett, who came in on the rescue truck, did a crawl through of every corner and crevice of the collapsed building. In this, like almost everything the firefighters did on Carbon Street, there was danger. And yet he went.


               That’s how Syracuse rolls.


               And that’s what the fire service means.


               And that’s what, for 24 hours on Carbon Street, the Syracuse Fire Department showed the world. What in ambulance after ambulance AMR showed the world. And what, even now at the bedsides of the injured, fighting for young lives, the heroes at Upstate University showed the world.


               A horrible, horrible thing happened, a worst-case scenario, two moms and two dads and a houseful of children, celebrating a holiday, and their world exploded.


               And then the army of heroes came. Men and woman who give a damn and can do hard things.


               Syracuse men and women, come to be their brothers’ keeper.

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