By Audrey Fraizer
Phone lines went berserk at Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker’s office for days following his on-the-way-to-the-office rescue of a 47-year-old woman trapped inside a burning building.
But like many elevated to hero status, the 42-year-old Booker downplayed the event and cordially thanked newfound admirers for offers ranging from an edible fruit basket arrangement to suggestions he campaign for New Jersey state governor.
“I didn’t feel bravery—I felt terror,” said Booker, whose suit coat was burnt by the flames. “I didn’t feel too heroic. . .It happened very quickly.”
A similar story in Colorado garnered far less press, but the hero of our story—like the mayor—can still credit himself a fire rescue absent protective turnout gear, a helmet, or a self-contained breathing apparatus.
“That’s what crossed my mind after I was outside the building,” said Yon Nunez, assistant fire marshal for West Metro Fire Rescue in Lakewood, Colo. “I lacked gear.”
Granted, Nunez’s 20 active years in firefighting gave him the edge compared to a mayor with an equivalent number of years of political experience. But the risks were no less life threatening. A year earlier, Nunez had transferred to the Life Safety/Fire Prevention Bureau. He now wears a duty uniform and drives a car to inspect fire alarms.
“Not everyone is a lights-and-siren guy,” he said.
On April 21, 2011, Nunez was driving to an inspection when a call came in over his portable service radio. There was a structure fire with potential parties trapped close to his route. Nunez drove to the scene, parked his car against the opposite curb, and ran into the house after radioing West Metro Fire communications of his plans to help a woman standing in a smoke-filled hallway.
“He told us he was going in, and that was his choice,” said Megan Reyes, who was the supervisor on duty that morning. “We sent fire and medical units.”
Nunez did a grab and go, cradling the startled woman like a bride across the threshold. He took her down the porch stairs, carried her to the car, and grabbed an oxygen tank from an engine that had just pulled up. An ambulance transported the 85-year-old woman to the hospital.
“She had just been in the hospital for pneumonia,” Nunez said. “She would have never made it down the stairs alone.”
The incident might have gone unnoticed if a former field paramedic student of Nunez’s hadn’t caught wind of the rescue. Now a West Metro lieutenant, he and another lieutenant nominated Nunez for Colorado’s Red Cross Professional Rescuer Award, which Nunez received at the 2012 Breakfast of Champions and Award Ceremony held on March 15, 2012, in Denver.
Nunez said this rescue was more poignant than others from his firefighting days. But that doesn’t mean he’s feeling any more heroic.
“That’s our job,” he said. “We risk a lot to save a lot. I did nothing different than anyone else in the department would have done.”