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Detroit firefighters, medics honored for dangerous rescues

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Firefighter Kenneth Durant and Thomas Haberstick look over the certificates they received for their life-saving actions in a March fire, with Haberstick's mother, Jennifer Haberstick, proudly looking on.

Detroit — It was a snowy February morning when EMT Chris Mateja and partner Tom Miller caught word of a fire involving young children and jumped into action.

The pair braved icy, white-out conditions to join crews battling a Feb. 13 house fire on the city's west side where a woman and her six-year-old son had been pulled to safety with severe burns — her elder son, 9, remained trapped inside.

The house on Hubbell was fully involved, with fire coming out every door and window. Mateja estimated that the boy had been inside for at least 20 minutes before he was pulled from the blaze by firefighters in cardiac arrest. 

The EMTs quickly began administering lifesaving aid to the child, restoring his pulse as the rig raced to Sinai-Grace hospital.

"Day in and day out, it's what we do. It's our job. The training kicks in, and you do the job you are supposed to perform," said Mateja, 35, who has been a medic in Detroit for five years. "We just try to save a life."

Captain James Gotten talks about the February fire that he, EMT Christopher Mateja, EMT Heather Damman, paramedic Austin Tederington and EMT Thomas Miller received recognition for Tuesday. They were able to get the pulse back on a 9-year-old victim.

Unfortunately, Mateja said, the boy was taken off life support several days later. The EMT said he just wants the family to know we "tried to do everything we could."

Mateja's team on Tuesday joined other firefighters and EMTs at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters to be recognized for life-saving efforts in a ceremony led by Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones. 

Jones, during the ceremony, called the outcome of the run "tragic" but noted "we still recognize our firefighters for the risk that they take and making attempts to save lives." 

"Firefighters and these EMS personnel on the scene made valiant attempts to save all of the lives at this location," Jones said. "Unfortunately, one of the attempts was unsuccessful."

The monthly recognition ceremony also acknowledged firefighters and EMTs for heroic efforts that saved three adults suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and 19-year-old Wayne County Jail inmate with cardiac arrest.

Paramedics Robert Carlton and Joseph Szalay receive recognition Tuesday from Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones for saving three individuals that were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide.

Also honored Tuesday was a team that worked to pull a man and 3-year-old child from a burning house on Lakewood. 

Fire crews with east side Ladder 31 arrived on the scene, joining several engines, a medic unit and squad. The team was immediately informed that the man and child were trapped in a back bedroom, officials said. 

Heavy smoke and fire prevented the rescuers from entering through the front door, so they grabbed a ladder and raced around the back, knocked out a window and climbed inside, said Sgt. Daniel Salkowski.

The crew, he said, found the man on the ground unconscious and the child at his feet. The victims were handed off to EMS and were revived with CPR. Both, he said, were breathing on their own by the time they arrived at a hospital and later recovered. 

"When we had the adult on the window sill, that's when the fire breached through the bedroom door," he said. "Another 30 seconds, it would have been all over."

Jones noted Tuesday that without the team's quick response, "there is no question that the result of this incident could have been tragic."

Firefighter Jason Reedy said he was honored to be part of the team recognized for the life-saving work.

"At the end of the day, these people got saved, and they got to go home to their families and the same thing for us," he said. "We get to go home, we're safe and we get to our families. That's what it's all about."