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Off-duty police officer rescues elderly woman from Riverside fire

An off-duty Buffalo police officer pulled an elderly woman from her burning house in Riverside on Sunday after his daughter smelled smoke and rushed home to tell him.

The woman, Florence Winarski, 89, of 45 Doyle Ave., was in critical condition in Erie County Medical Center with severe burns to her hands, arms and face.

"The smoke was pretty intense, and I couldn't see very much when I opened the door," said Detective Sgt. Harvey Frankel, the off-duty officer who rushed to the scene. "I was able to see a single foot so I reached in, grabbed her ankle and pulled her out."

Frankel said his 7-year-old daughter, Kayla, was playing with a friend at the house next door when she smelled smoke Sunday afternoon.

Kayla rushed home to tell her father, who grabbed his cell phone and called 911 as he ran to Winarski's nearby home.

When he arrived, he found the house engulfed in smoke and yelled to see if anyone was inside.

A neighbor heard the yelling and said, "She's in there," and that's when Frankel opened the front door.

"I was a little hesitant about going in because I couldn't see beyond a foot or two," Frankel said.

Through the dark smoke, the one thing he could see was Winarski's foot. He pulled her through the door and onto the front lawn.

"She apparently tried to get out but never made it to the door," said Frankel, a member of Buffalo's SWAT team. "She was barely breathing when I finally got her out."

Just about that time, Buffalo firefighters arrived and took Winarski to ECMC. She was in the hospital's burn unit with burns to 18 percent of her body.

Frankel credited his young daughter with discovering the fire and immediately going for help. "We've always taught her what to do in situations like this," he said.

Lt. Sal Colangelo, commander of the Buffalo fire marshal's office, said the cause of the Doyle Avenue fire is under investigation. Assisting him are Investigators Harold Emerson and Edwin Ortiz.

Colangelo estimated damage to the house at about $50,000.


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