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Months after a heroic rescue, 2 Buffalo firefighters to receive awards for bravery

Buffalo Firefighter Justin DeSilva doesn't usually get the chance to be a hero. His job is to drive Engine 23's hose truck.

But in September 2016, DeSilva arrived in the truck outside a burning Millicent Avenue house and saw there were three people trapped on the second floor. He could see two of them were children.

A dispatched ladder truck was still en route.

"I remember just getting out into the street and seeing a lot of smoke coming out of different areas of the house, you know, the windows and the doorway. There were two kids up on the second story window, but I had to pull the hose off for the other firefighters, and they ran the hose into the back of the house to try to get in. And there was nobody else there yet," said DeSilva, 38.

He could see the ladder truck in the distance, but there was no time wait.

"So I just threw a ladder up real fast and then went up and I got the 5-month-old baby and I was coming down the ladder and I handed him off to the police officer," DeSilva said.

Moments later, Firefighter Timothy Cardwell, a rescuer with the ladder truck, arrived.

"When we pulled up, I saw Justin going up the ladder after placing a rescue ladder up to that window. He was on his way up to rescue one of the kids and I followed him immediately up the ladder to grab the second kid," Cardwell, 52, recalled.

For saving the two children and their mother, DeSilva and Cardwell will receive an award for bravery on Saturday night from the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 at the organization’s annual awards ball. They, along with 12 other Buffalo firefighters, will be honored at the Adam's Mark Hotel.

"It does feel good," said DeSilva, a 6 1/2-year veteran of the Buffalo Fire Department, said of receiving an award. "But I kind of keep to myself so it's a little weird for me, a little too much attention for me. But it's nice to have someone notice you did a good job."

He and Cardwell talked with The Buffalo News this week about the heroic rescue.

All of it seemed to occur in a flash, according to DeSilva, who had never rescued anyone from a fire before.

"Before I knew it, Tim was right behind me and I told him there was a kid up there and he ran up the ladder and he grabbed the 7-year-old. Everything happened really fast," he said.

"There was a mother, as well. I'm not sure who got her, because I had to go back to my duties as a driver of an engine," DeSilva added.

The rescue pulled him from his normal duties on the truck for only a few minutes, but the were crucial minutes when lives were hanging in the balance.

"The truck would usually do that (ladder rescues) but they were further down and we were right there and (the trapped residents) were kind of panicking," DeSilva said. "But I knew I could get my job done and do (the ladder rescue), as well."

Cardwell is no stranger to rescues as part of a ladder rescue team.

"I saved a kid from drowning in Shoshone swimming pool in 2008," he recalled.

However, most of Cardwell's other rescues were part of team effort in which he was not necessarily the one who made first contact with the victim. Cardwell has received commendations for performing rescues as part of a unit, but Saturday will mark the first time in his 18 years with the department that he will be specifically honored for his bravery.

Cardwell, the father of two adult daughters, said he decided to become a firefighter after he was laid off after 5 1/2 years with the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority police force, where he was the first minority appointed to be a canine handler.

DeSilva, who is married to a nurse, is a father of six children who range in age from 3 to 19 years old.

"I assisted in helping somebody out before, but never like this, never this outcome," he said.

Still, the idea of saving lives at emergencies was why DeSilva said he became a firefighter.

"This may sound silly but I remember, since I was a kid, I mean, who didn't want to be a firefighter or a police officer? I knew a few firefighters from a long time ago and I just thought their job was great. I do it because I like being there for people," he added.


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