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Within a few critical life-saving moments, he was able to locate an unconscious, wheelchair-bound Dominick Scaperotta and pull the 90-year-old man out of his burning home Monday.
It was the first major save in his five-year career as a firefighter with Ladder 129 in Flushing.
The blaze, which was called in at about 10 a.m. Monday, erupted inside Scaperotta's Flushing home at 148-11 35th Ave. that morning and was brought under control in about a half an hour, Capt. Patrick Lyons said. As of Monday, the all-hands fire was deemed not suspicious and possibly electrical, Lyons said.
"We got the call about 10 a.m. and on the way to the scene ... there were reports of people trapped," Walther said. "That makes you a little bit more in tune to what you're doing to make sure that you get things done a bit quicker."
Walther and Firefighter Rob Chiolo teamed up to enter the rear of the home. While Chiolo climbed a ladder to the second floor, Walther entered the back door and found the rear entrance shrouded in smoke.
"When I opened the second door, I was faced with a pretty charged area - heavy smoke, heat," Walther said. "I went in further, and lo and behold I put my hands right on the victim."
Walther shared his breathing apparatus with Scaperotta in an attempt to open the elderly man's airways. Scaperotta was suffering from labored breathing when Walther found him. He was the only person inside the house.
"I wanted to get him some fresh air because he was laying on the smoke, breathing air for a few minutes," Walther said.
Scaperotta was brought to New York Hospital Queens suffering from minor burns and smoke inhalation and spent Monday morning in a hyperbaric chamber there, firefighters said. He was later taken to Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx.
"If I hadn't decided to go in that room, in that back door - if I had gone in through a different window or to the second floor with (Chiolo) who had the ladder - he never would have made it," Walther said.
Lyons said Walther should be commended for his impressive firefighting efforts Monday morning.
"He went into an area of the building where most of the units were not concentrating on so he was alone ... without the protection of supporting members," Lyons said. "He felt the guy's wheelchair in that room and went on. That was good aggressive interior firefighting."
Ladder teams are responsible for searching for victims at fires while engine firefighters break down the flames.
Lyons said Scaperotta's family appeared at the scene and were able to thank Walther for his bravery.
"His grandson showed up. He got there pretty quickly. He was on the scene when we were coming out of the building," Lyons said. "He was happy that his grandpa was alive. That made Jimmy's day, knowing that he saved somebody's loved one."
Lyons said it was the crucial speed of Walther's rescue that made it possible for Scaperotta to survive the blaze.
"Another minute could have been deadly to him," Lyons said.
Walther said meeting Scaperotta's grandson changed the entire meaning of the rescue effort for him.
"To have somebody affected by what I did is something that you can't put into words," Walther said. "It's a humbling experience."
Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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