The flames in an apartment below had turned a Queens bedroom into a searing "barbecue" pit. Firefighter Michael Czech, 29, knew he had only seconds to rescue three unconscious victims -- a mother and her two sons.
So before dawn on Jan. 27, he crawled through a shattered window of the Ozone Park apartment and into the brutal heat.
"I patted a bed and felt a child's foot and dove onto the bed. There was no visibility. The smoke was severe enough it would put you right out," he said. "The victims were in a barbecue. The mother and a second boy were halfway off the other side of the bed."
Victoria Montero had called 911 before she and her sons, Carlos, 8, and Dylan, 6, had passed out from the smoke and carbon-monoxide poisoning.
"I picked up the first child on the bed and brought him closer to the window. Then the second child, and finally the mother," said Czech, a seven-year FDNY veteran who has been nominated for a New York Post Liberty Medal in the Bravest category.
As he passed each off to his firefighter buddy, Ed Rissland, who lowered them to paramedics, "we agreed I would stay in the room. We had no idea if somebody was still in there -- we needed to make sure," Czech said.
As Czech thoroughly searched the room, fellow firefighters from his Ladder Co. 142 of Woodhaven and Engine Co. 285 rescued a grandmother trapped on the first floor.
"Everything was one big team," he recalled. "It was a wild night. I was in the right place at the right time. It's not so often everyone makes it out alive."