NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A firefighter has died and three other firefighters were injured while battling a fire at a home on the 100 block of Valley Street early Wednesday morning. Now investigators are working to determine the cause.
News 8 was told the fire started at a two-and-a-half-story home at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.
A total of four firefighters were injured. Two firefighters had to be pulled out of the building, found unconscious on the second floor. City officials said one firefighter has died from injuries sustained in the fire, and one is in critical condition at the Bridgeport Hospital’s Burn Unit.
The firefighter who died from his injuries was identified as Ricardo Torres Jr. It was Torres who sent out a mayday call before being found by rescue crews on the second floor.
Torres was with the department for two years and leaves behind a young son and a pregnant wife.
The firefighter who was critically injured was identified as Lt. Samod Rankins. Those who know him say he is a fighter and have no doubt he will pull through.
Both men hailed as heroes.
The firefighters who were also injured were identified as Tyrone Reed and Tyler Skolnik.
Two occupants, an 84-year-old woman and a man, also had to be rescued from the building. One was taken to the hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
As a family, city leaders, brothers in arms, held a vigil overnight.
Mayor Justin Elicker emotional Wednesday. He said of Torres, “and his family lost him. It’s a reminder to us all about the sacrifice you and your families make.”
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Jean Pierre Sanchez is a neighbor on this street, and he told News 8 he came out to see what was happening when he heard fire trucks at the scene just before 1 a.m. He told us that he and other neighbors gathered together, trying to piece together what was happening.
“We saw a woman being taken out of the house from a stretcher,” Sanchez recalled. “And I would say an hour after the fire started, we realized that the firefighters were actually putting a lot of effort to break the glasses and spray more water.”
The fire is now out and the occupants have been displaced. There is no word on the cause of the fire at this time. Neighbors said the fire appeared to have started near the top of the house.
New Haven police and Connecticut State Police are assisting in the investigation due to it being a line of duty death.
Sgt. Paul Makuc of the State Police Fire and Explosion Investigative Unit said Thursday, “These instances require a lot of interviews…We will not leave this scene or the city until we get all of that work accomplished.”
The Chief State Medical Examiner’s Office says an autopsy has been performed on Torres and the cause of death is pending further study.
This is the second firefighter death in the Elm City in a week. Firefighter William McMillan, a four-year veteran of the department, died suddenly Saturday. No word yet on the cause.
Pat Cannon said of Torres, “I would tell his child that he followed his dreams. His father followed his dreams to become a New Haven firefighter and he gave the ultimate sacrifice as a firefighter with honor. A hero. A hero today.”
Fire departments across the state are taking to social media, extending words of sympathy for the loss of the New Haven firefighter. Click here to see all of the condolences.
“There are no words, there are absolutely no words,” said New Haven Fire Chief John Alston Jr. during a news conference. “You see all of the stages of grief in front of you happening in real-time.”
Chief Alston Jr. said that the fallen firefighter had wanted to be a firefighter since he was a child and that he should be remembered as a hero.
“I interviewed him, and I hired him for this job,” Chief Alston Jr. said. “He sacrificed himself to save someone else. And I was so proud of him. And I continue to be proud of him.”
He added, “I want to tell the New Haven Fire Department I’m proud of you, proud of you.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Firefighter Torres’ family. You can find out more by clicking here.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker went to the scene and weighed in on the tragedy: “This will be something that impacts us for months and years to come. But, I’m proud to be a part of the City of New Haven and a fire department that has responded with such compassion with the loss of a very important member of our fire department and our community.”
Thursday, New Haven’s fire chief was in Bridgeport at the burn unit to visit Lt. Rankins and says he’s by no means out of the woods but is improving.
His family tells News 8 he is out of his medically-induced coma and is responding to commands from doctors. They say they are grateful for the outpouring of support and ask for the prayers to continue, but add that their hearts are with Firefighter Torres’ family.
The department shattered over the loss of Torres while supporting their brothers and sisters through this time.
Asst. Chief Justin McCarthy said, “The department has seen overwhelming support from around the country from our brothers and sisters in the fire service and the civilians that have reached out and that is truly appreciated – the only thing we ask is that members of the public stay away from the valley street area as the investigation continues.”