Harrison’s Bravest get the gold

Photo by Cindy Dwyer From l., Firefi ghter Willie McMahon, Firefi ghter Robert Underhill, Capt. John Dwyer, Lt. Joseph Lang, Firefi ghter Joseph Zicchinella and Firefi ghter David Prina were gold-medal recipients.
Photo by Cindy Dwyer
From l., Firefi ghter Willie McMahon, Firefi ghter Robert Underhill, Capt. John Dwyer, Lt. Joseph Lang, Firefighter Joseph Zicchinella and Firefighter David Prina were gold-medal recipients.


They may have been feuding a few weeks ago over firefighting staffing levels, but for at least one night, the New Jersey Fireman’s Mutual Benevolent Association (NJFMBA) and Harrison Fire Department (HFD) were on the same page.

On Saturday, April 20, the state firefighters union presented gold medals to six members of the HFD at the union’s annual Valor Awards ceremony, held this year at the Pines Manor in Edison.

The gold medal is the top award given by the union, which paid tribute to an elite group of the Bravest from around the state.

A citation presented to the HFD outlines a narrative of a fire rescue performed by members of Tour 4 on Nov. 20, 2012, for which the Harrison six – Firefighters Willie McMahon, Robert Underhill, Joseph Zicchinella and David Prina, Lt. Joseph Lang and Capt. John Dwyer – were honored.

At around 8:20 a.m. that day, the HFD was dispatched to an apartment complex at 550 Central Ave. where there was a working fire, with people on the scene reporting that a man was trapped in the second- floor apartment where the fire had originated.

Following Dwyer upstairs, Prina, serving that day as acting lieutenant; Zicchinella and Lang, of Engine 3, stretched a line to the second floor hallway, where they were met by the mother of the man in the apartment “screaming that her son was in there.”

Lang and Prina forced open the door to the son’s apartment where, despite “high heat and zero visibility,” they started to search the apartment.

At the same time, Dwyer directed Underhill and Zicchinella to raise a ground ladder to the apartment’s balcony and begin a “vent/ enter/search operation from the opposite side of the apartment.”

McMahon, meanwhile, managed water supply for interior operations.

Firefighters converging from opposite directions located the apartment’s occupant, who was “unconscious and burned but still alive,” in the hallway between the bedroom and living room.

Lang, Prina, Underhill and Zicchinella removed the man, who was 6-feet-one and about 275 pounds, to the balcony “where lifesaving rescue breathing was begun.”

Zicchinella then re-entered the apartment and put out the remaining fire.

A Reeves stretcher was sent up to the balcony, the man was placed inside, removed from the building, and transported to the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark.

“Had it not been for the extraordinary effort and teamwork displayed at this incident, there certainly would have been a much different outcome,” the citation said.

— Ron Leir

Learn more about the writer ...