FAIR LAWN, N.J. – Two Fair Lawn police officers who saved two women trapped on the second floor of a group home during a fire that killed two others were honored Tuesday night for their heroism.
Flames blew through the upper story of the Berkshire Road home -- operated by the Alliance Against Homelessness of Bergen County -- just before midnight on Nov. 23, 2013.
Using a wooden bedframe propped against the house, Officer Juan Rodriguez climbed to the second floor with help from Officers John Rovetto, Edward Egan and Luis Vasquez and got a 54-year-old resident out a window as flames roared behind her.
"My legs are on fire!" she screamed.
"I just got next to her and told her 'I'm not going to let you go,' " Rodriguez told Daily Voice after the rescue. "She was so scared she was going to fall to the ground down to the concrete."
After helping her down, Rodriguez caught his foot in a gutter, had a brief tumble and was taken to the hospital with ankle and knee injuries.
Rovetto got a 69-year-old first-floor resident out.
One victim who didn't make it out alive was found in bed and the other on the floor behind a bedroom door, Sgt. Brian Metzler said.
A space heater in a second-floor bedroom was to blame, the sergeant said at the time.
The Knights of Columbus, St. Ann’s Council #2853 honored both officers during tonight’s Borough Council meeting.
Rodriguez and Rovetto also awarded the Knights of Columbus New Jersey State Council Shield Award.
It was a tragedy that two people died, Police Chief Glen Cauwels said shortly after the blaze. At the same time, he said, it could have been worse.
"These officers went up above their duty to rescue the woman off the roof and I'm very proud of what they've done," Cauwels said.
"We did what we had to do," Rodriguez said at the time. "That's my job. That's what I signed up for.”