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Lt. receives top FDNY honor for saving 5 in VN

A fire fighter, who saved 5 lives on May 23, 2007 in Van Nest, was recently honored with the Fire Department’s highest honor at its annual Medal Day.

Lieutenant James Congema received the James Gordon Bennett Medal as well as the New York State Honorary Fire Chiefs Association Medal at FDNY ceremony. 

“Medal Day is one of the Department’s most cherished traditions that highlight the brave efforts of our members who are willing to sacrifice their lives for others,” FDNY commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said.   “Whether fighting through flames to rescue a child or providing medical care in the midst of a gun battle, these medal winners are our very best of the best.”

Established in 1869, the Bennett medal is awarded for the most outstanding act of heroism. 

“Its unbelievable,” said Congema after the ceremony.  “I have to pinch myself, it’s a dream.”

He compared it to getting a homerun in the 9th inning at the World Series. 

On March 23, 2007, 1717 Unionport Road, near White Plains Road at 1:38 a.m., Ladder 41 responded to a fire in a two-story multiple dwelling. Lieutenant Congema ordered his forcible entry team to force open the locked door.

Entering the apartment, the awardee was confronted with high heat, zero visibility and thick, black, smoke.

Congema found an unconscious adult as he arrived inside. He proceeded to scan the apartment and hallway with a thermal imaging camera to identify where the fire was concentrated.   By showing red in the screen of the camera, the TIC indicated high heat pouring from the kitchen.

Knowing the location of the fire, Congema dragged the unconscious victim to the apartment door, where the fire fighters carried the person out to the street.

He immediately returned to his search, crawling past the now extending fire and deeper into the apartment.

About 10 feet down the interior hall, the lieutenant found another unconscious adult, whom he dragged to the door, meeting another firefighter.

Congema crawled deeper into the apartment and entered a bedroom. He felt his way through the blinding smoke and found a third unconscious victim, whom he brought out, and a fourth victim, whom he also dragged to safety. 

The Lieutenant returned to the bedroom to finish the search.  He found the final victim, a small girl, and proceeded to carry the unconscious girl to the street.

Appointed to the FDNY on February 8, 1998, Congema was stationed at Battalion 19, Ladder Company 41, located at 1155 Washington Avenue in Morrisania.  He was previously assigned to Engine 231 and Ladder 120.

A member of the Columbia Association and the Emerald and Holy Name Societies, he holds a degree in accounting from Hofstra University. The Bronx firefighter has been cited for bravery on two previous occasions.

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