NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — It’s been nearly two months since firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr. died saving two people from a fire on Valley Street in the city’s Westville neighborhood. Now, the friend and fellow firefighter who was by his side that day is ready to tell his story. Lt. Samod Rankins spoke only to News 8’s Sabina Kuriakose.

The fire happened inside a gray colonial not far from the Dixwell Avenue firehouse. The stakes were heightened with reports of people trapped inside.

Even then, there was no indication of the chain of events about to be set in motion.

Two firefighters, close friends, ran into the burning building, with only one coming out alive.

Torres Jr., father to a young son with another on the way, fallen in the line of duty. Lt. Rankins, injured, but alive.

“It wasn’t looking good in the beginning. I didn’t think I’d be here today,” Lt. Rankins told News 8. “I was lost. I didn’t fully understand exactly what happened.”

Kuriakose and “Nuke,” as his friends call him, sat down together at the lieutenant’s home, where he continues to recover.

“There’s not one day I haven’t thought about it multiple times. When I wake up, go to sleep, when I hear a fire engine down the street, when I turn the news on,” Lt. Rankins said.

Lt. Rankins, who turned 29 while in the Burn Unit at Bridgeport Hospital, also spoke openly with News 8 about his mental health recovery.

RELATED: New Haven firefighter Lt. Samod Rankins released from hospital Tuesday after readmittance

Lt. Rankins described the start of his shift that day with Torres Jr., the old friend he’d mentored and coached through firefighter training.

“I remember conversations we were having that day. We were actually talking about they’re going to be hiring a new class soon,” he said. “We just couldn’t wait to start working with these individuals, show them the right way.”

Kuriakose asked Lt. Rankins if he would describe the day and he responded, “I don’t think I’m ready yet, very sensitive for me.”

He was ready to talk about everything that’s followed, from waking up in the hospital room after doctors worked to clear his lungs of smoke and soot.

“I got off the ventilator, woke up from the coma. I asked my doctor and my nurse about [Torres}, but it seemed like everyone was avoiding it or would change the topic. When the chief came, he was the one who notified me, who told me because I had no clue. I’ll never forget that day,” Lt. Rankins said.

Just a week later, he put on his uniform, hoping to be there for his friend one last time.

“I was going to get a four hour pass to go to the funeral and then come back. That morning, my condition wasn’t good, so the doctors thought it was best for me to stay at the hospital and watch the funeral from the TV,” he said. “I was very disappointed that I couldn’t be there in person, but I know that Ricardo seen that I was still there with him.”

Physically, he continues to heal.

“The physical part has been the most challenging, at this time, because of the injuries I sustained,” he said. “Bilateral —both lungs— my trachea, my throat, inhalation, burn inhalation injuries. I hurt my back and my right eye.”

Therapy is helping Lt. Rankins with his battered lungs. His windpipe is still in enough pain that it hurts just to laugh.

He is able to walk on his own, but in his heart and mind, there is still no peace.

“Those days usually stuck in bed, I feel like I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to be bothered, I feel like being alone, I’m not on my phone,” he told News 8.

Therapy and his family go a long way on those days as do the countless well wishes and prayers from fellow firefighters, friends, and even strangers around the world.

“Never in a million years have I thought I would experience something like this,” he said. “I’ve always read about situations like this. I’ve studied things like this. I took a lot of classes. I just never thought it would hit home like that.”

“My hope is to survive this career with my health and sanity intact.”

Lt. Rankins also spoke to News 8 about the moments before and after losing his close friend, firefighter Torres, on that awful day in May. 

“Ricardo was the best guy I’ve ever worked with,” recalled Rankins. “He was like a brother to me, a close friend. He cared about his family, he cared about his community. His work ethic was strong—he had the best work ethic on the job.”


Following the fire that killed his friend, Lt. Rankins says the recovery from the mental wounds are as painful as the physical ones.

“My hope is to survive this career with my health and sanity intact,” he told News 8.

Lt. Rankins says counseling, love, and support from friends and strangers are what is helping him heal and find a way forward from that trauma.

“All over the country, Rhode Island, California, Texas, they’re helping me. Our EAP, Employee Assistance Program, counselors, social workers, psychologists, they’re very helpful. My coworkers are helpful. I get a ton of visitors. Everyone is here to support me. I appreciate them for that,” Lt. Rankins said.

He is adamant that he wants the community to maintain a positive outlook for his recovery and not to feel burdened by the difficulties he continues to face.

“I just want everyone to be strong for me. What bothers me a lot is when I see everyone crying. I don’t like that, it makes me feel worse. When they think of me, I want them to think of strength, stay strong for me. I’ve always told my mom that and dad that stay strong for me no matter what happens by holding the tears back. That’s the best thing they can do for me,” he said.

Someone who has been by his side is Torres’ mother, Cathy.

“I talk to his mom almost every day. It does help me a lot, she checks on me,” Lt. Rankins told News 8.

All of the love and support is enough to push back the darkness and gives Lt. Rankins the strength to get through grueling hospital visits and the physical therapy needed to regain the full use of his lungs.

He says he wishes he could trade placed with Torres, but instead he’s finding ways to honor his memory. One of those ways is by establishing a scholarship for city EMTs.

“I’ll always love Ricardo, make sure his legacy lives on,” Lt. Rankins said.

Though Lt. Rankins says he doesn’t feel like a hero, he’s doing what heroes do: getting back up when fate has nearly knocked him out.

He says he plans on putting on his uniform again one day.

“That’s the best job in the world. I love serving the community I grew up in,” he said. “That’s what motivates me, keeps me going. I have to do something. Helping others, that’s what I’ve been doing. I don’t like sitting around. I realize life is going on with or without me.”

With Lt. Rankins, life is better, safer, and brighter for everyone.