County executive commends cops, firefighters
Nassau County police officers and Hicksville firefighters earned recognition from Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano after saving three dogs from a house fire in Hicksville on Jan. 26.
The ceremony was held Feb. 2 at the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management and also featured Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter and county Legislator Rose Mary Walker, as well as homeowner Jita Klat and two of her dogs. The canines received “commendations” from the county executive in the form of beribboned chewable bone treats.
“There aren’t enough words—or ways—to tell you how grateful we are,” Klat stated after being invited by Mangano to approach the mic. “I can’t thanks you enough for putting your life on the line.”
Emergency personnel responded to a fire at the Georgia Street house owned by Klat and husband Noah at about 9 a.m. Neighbors alerted Noah at work, and he called Jita, also at work. She in turn called friend Margaret Pusinelli, who lives nearby and went to the scene.
Police officers Andrew Massa, Michael Rothwell and Steven Tornetta, and Police Medic Benjamin Butt, soon after arriving, heard barking coming from inside.
According to Mangano, Massa kicked in the front door and the officers, after crawling on the floor to avoid the thick smoke, found Inca, a 2½-year-old husky mix, unconscious in the living room. Massa and Tornetta carried her out and Butt administered oxygen.
“Worried about Inca’s condition, PO Tornetta put her in his vehicle and sped to the nearest veterinarian [in Westbury], certainly saving her life,” Mangano related.
Meanwhile the Hicksville Fire Department had also responded, with 3rd Assistant Chief William Efinger directing operations. Learning from Pusinelli—who relayed Jita’s frantic pleas to save her pets—that there two more dogs in the house, firefighters and ex-captains Gary Lewis and Joseph DiFronzo, along with Robert Dwyer, an ex-commissioner, forced open the back door. After a search, they found Sasha, a 2-year-old Greek pekingese, and Chloe, a 10-year-old border collie. The two were hiding under the kitchen table.
The pets were led out of the house and firefighter and EMT Jennifer Sheehan aided Butt in treating the dogs, neither of whom, according to Mangano, appeared to be injured. Of the three dogs, Chloe was not able to be present at the ceremony to greet the rescuers.
“There was thick smoke,” Efinger noted, adding that the fire was restricted to the kitchen and quickly doused. “They put themselves in danger.”
“We do thorough searches,” said DiFronzo of interior firefighting efforts. “There is a lot of commotion going on, and a lot of communicating…with the chief or command post.”
Lewis was a couple of block away, in his work vehicle, when the call came. Asked what he could do without the apparatus and equipment, Lewis responded, “We do what we’re trained to do. Maybe there’s someone in [the house]. You do your job.”
“Sometimes, we put our safety last and we go in,” said DiFronzo.
“You always assume that there’s someone in the house,” Lewis pointed out. “Sometimes you never know.”
“The smoke was pretty thick and it was close to the ground,” said Butt, who responded as a police medic but is also a member of the Hicksville Fire Department. “The training basically kicked in and we did what we had to do. This is what we’re trained for.”
Butt admitted that it had been the first time that he had administered oxygen to a dog.
Efinger said that engines from stations 1, 2 and 4 responded, as well as an ambulance from Station 1.
Mangano praised the first responders, affirming, “All collectively keep our county safe, one of the safest largest suburban counties in the U.S.A. These police officers, firefighters and police medic are truly deserving of the recognition accorded to them for helping to save three dogs from a tragic ending. Working collaboratively, they truly made a difference. Their quick response and immediate action has made the difference between life and death.”
“They are my family, they are my girls,” Klat said of her pets. “I don’t even refer to them as my dogs. I always pray that someone would take care of my animals the way I would take care of theirs.”
Sasha and Inca—both rescue dogs—will have a chance to give back to their human companions. The Jitas have the dogs enrolled at Hicksville-based Dogability, an organization that supplies therapy dogs and other canine-assisted activities.