CLAY, N.Y. — As smoke billowed from a mobile home early Christmas morning, rescuers could hear a man inside calling for help.
Michael Echeandia, 49, lay on his bedroom floor, unable to escape. An Onondaga County sheriff’s deputy who heard him tried to climb up through the window, but couldn’t get to Echeandia because there was too much smoke, firefighters said. Moyers Corners Volunteer Deputy Fire Chief Frank Crispin also could hear the man, but he, too, could not get to him safely.
“Firefighters are on their way in,” Crispin yelled into the window, to reassure the man.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Steve Zaferakis, and Firefighters Phil Vogt and Evan Bailey had forced open the back door, closest to the bedroom where the man was trapped inside the mobile home at 5409 Albury Court at Madison Village Mobile Home Park in Clay. But they couldn’t get in. All they could see was a cabinet, microwave and part of the ceiling that had collapsed.
“I could barely see in because there was so much debris,” Zaferakis said. “We shut that door and went around to the front of the mobile home.”
Firefighters never heard a smoke detector. Instead, a neighbor smelled smoke and called for help at 2:29 a.m. Christmas morning.
A fire in the kitchen started to grow. As soon as the firefighters opened the front door, the fire took off, they said. Flames spread rapidly, across the kitchen walls and ceiling, into the living room.
Zaferakis and Vogt quickly entered through the front door and crawled from the family room, through the kitchen to a short corridor and into the bedroom as the fire spread throughout the home. Crispin and Firefighter Zack Snyder were just behind, spraying water from a hose to try and extinguish the blaze.
“We literally had seconds to get through it,” Zaferakis said. “We moved quickly.”
Zaferakis and Vogt opened the bedroom door. Echeandia was now semi-conscious in the smoke-filled room, but not sure of what was going on, Zaferakis said. The firefighters quickly shut the bedroom door and reassured Echeandia they would help him get out safely. Vogt smashed the bedroom window while Zaferakis lifted Echeandia off the ground. Together, the firefighters carried Echeandia to the window and passed him to Firefighters Josh Hildreth and Tim Richards.
But before they had lifted Echeandia out the window to safety, Moyers Corners Volunteer Fire Chief John Perkins calmly spoke into his radio: Two more people may still be trapped inside, he told firefighters.
While Snyder continued to extinguish the fire from inside the front door, Crispin crawled down the hallway and into another bedroom. There, he found, 31-year-old Justin Smith, unconscious and face-down on the bedroom floor about 15 feet from the front door. Crispin rolled Smith over and tried to drag him out, but he quickly realized he needed more help.
It took a team of four firefighters — Firefighters Ryan Whitmore, Jeremy Corsaro, Crispin and Capt. Mike Hoosock — to carry the unconscious man out.
Another crew of firefighters, meanwhile, continued searching the mobile home for a possible third victim, but never found one.
Within 15 minutes of the neighbor calling in the fire, firefighters had rescued the two men and extinguished the fire.
But Smith wasn’t breathing when firefighters brought him outside.
Hoosock and Whitmore immediately took off their breathing masks and began CPR. They continued compressions for about five minutes until an ambulance arrived. Just before the ambulance pulled up, the firefighters felt a pulse.
A group of firefighters carried Smith — still unconscious — to the ambulance. Emergency medical technicians and paramedics rushed Smith to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. A second ambulance then took Echeandia, who was conscious and breathing, to the same hospital.
“To me, it was surreal,” Zaferakis said. “We were in disbelief that we brought back one and rescued the other.”