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Matamoras Fire Department Trains for Bail Out

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

MATAMORAS, PA - A dozen Matamoras Fire Department firefighters were trained in January in the use of personal safety bailout kits. These safety devices are designed to save lives in the event that any firefighter has to bail out of a two-story or higher building. The kits and training were provided via a grant awarded to the department in 2023 by the Lieutenant Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, Inc.

The Bail Out Safety System is designed to supplement official firefighting turnout suits and gear. The kits work by allowing a firefighter to anchor to a durable upper floor location and self-lower with the bail out system when existing passages and exits become inaccessible.  

Matamoras Fire Department Chief Todd Kowinsky said his department applied for the grant and trained on the system for exactly that reason.

“We applied for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo grant so our firefighters would have the ability to escape when fire conditions become extreme or the firefighter runs low on air and cannot make the exit from the 1st floor,” Kowinsky said.

The foundation that funds the grant was established as a result of NYC incidents that claimed the lives of three NYC firefighters and severely injured four others on a single day, January 23, 2005.  

According to online reports, a call to a Bronx tenement fire saw six firefighters become trapped on the fourth-floor. The structure had blocked fire escapes and multiple additions and drywall partitions. Surrounded by fire, with no way out and no ropes to self-lower, four of the six jumped from fourth-story windows. Two of the four were killed on impact, and two seriously injured. The last two firefighters, who were still together on the fourth-floor, had one rope that had been purchased by one of the two on his own. The other was DiBernardo.

DiBernardo, who had just turned 34 the month before, was single and insisted on lowering his married-with-children colleague first. Unfortunately, the colleague hit the building on his way over the edge, lost his breath and grip on the rope, and fell to the ground. DiBernardo then tied off on a child guard, but also fell from the fourth-story when his rope broke. DiBernardo broke nearly all of his bones from the waist down, shattered both feet, and developed respiratory arrest and pneumonia during a lengthy stay in the hospital. He eventually returned home, but lived in great pain every day until his death on November 22, 2011.  

NYFD and other departments have taken steps to help prevent such scenarios since then, including equipping and training firefighters with bail out systems. The Matamoras volunteer firefighters who completed the voluntary training plan to voluntarily refresh and recertify annually.

“God forbid if any building goes up fast, with no exit. It will save lives,” said Kowinsky. “Hopefully it never comes to it, but if it does the men and women will be ready.”

Note: Those who completed the recent Bail Out training were: Ian Copertino, Greg Fean, Alex Fitterer, Tyler Kowinsky, Jen Mai, Tyler Maney, Heather Nealis, Travis Wildrick, William Johnson, Sean Alessandra, Matt McKeon, Paul Zorn.

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SHARON SIEGELSenior Correspondent

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