New York Air Guardsmen Keep Serving When They Take Their Uniforms Off and Put Firefighter’s Gear On

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Story by: Tech. Sgt. Catharine Schmidt - 109th Airlift Wing
  Dated: Tue, May 4, 2010

New York Air Guardsmen Keep Serving When They Take Their Uniforms Off and Put Firefighter’s Gear On
New York Air National Guard Master Sgt. Anthony Helstowski rescues a young girl on March 14, 2010 in his civilian job as a Schenectady, New York firefighter. This photo by Daily Gazette Photographer Peter Barber, is used by permission of the Daily Gazette.

STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, SCOTIA, NY (05/04/2010)(readMedia)-- For Master Sgt. Anthony Helstowski, and Tech. Sgt. Mike Lazzari, traditional Guard members assigned to the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, service to country and community doesn’t stop at the end of the drill weekend.

Helstowski a loadmaster, and Lazzari, an Air Guard firefighter, are firemen in civilian life and both have recently distinguished themselves in their outside lives.

Helstowski, a member of the Schenectady, NY Fire Department for the past nine years, is being credited for risking his own life to save that of two young girls during a March 14 fire

Lazzari, a member of the New York City Fire Department who is also a member of New York City’s urban search and rescue team, New York Task Force One, helped save the lives of six people following the January earthquake in Haiti.

Saving a Child in Schenectady, New York

The Sunday, March 14 fire at 18 Grove Place was one of the worst Helstowski has ever responded to.

"We pulled in and there was fire blowing out the side of the building," he said. "Reports said that children were still inside. Crews were already inside putting out the fire and doing searches. My partner and I took a hose line in, and saw the crews were doing a good job getting out the fire, so we went on with our search.

"We went in one of the bedrooms and found both kids. One was underneath a toddler bed and the other one was on top of the bed underneath the blanket. They were 4 and 5 years old."

Helstowski and his partner got the kids out of the building and got them on an ambulance. Both kids are now fine.

"We’ve assisted people out of building before, but with the smoke and the heat and the kids hiding -- and then actually finding them -- it was very intense."

Helstowski has been a Schenectady firefighter for nine years. Before that, he worked in the loadmaster section on base full time. Because both jobs are so different, coming to drill gives him a break from the stresses that come along with being a firefighter, he said.

At the fire station, you never know what to expect; at the base, you do, Helstowski explained. "Some calls, like a bad car accident or a pediatric death, never really leave you. Coming to the base is almost like an escape."

"The things you learn here, I brought over to the fire department. Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence In All You Do -- you bring that work ethic to the fire department. As a lieutenant over there, I try to instill those values in the new recruits, and get them motivated," Helstowski said.

"I think it goes both ways," said Senior Master Sgt. Kurt Garrison, loadmaster superintendent. "Being in the military helped him be a better firefighter, and what he’s learned being a firefighter has brought more to the military."

Saving Victims of Haiti’s Earthquake

When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti on Jan. 12, Mike Lazzari knew he’d be on his way there soon.

As a member of Fire Department, New York he is assigned to Task Force 1, consisting 40 FDNY members and 40 members of the New York City Police Department. The team left New York on Jan. 13 and was in Haiti for 11 days.

"We landed in the Port-au-Prince airport," Lazzari recalled. "Right away, we saw thousands of people. It was complete chaos. There were people everywhere and planes landing constantly. At the time, the control tower was a desk on the grass with people on cell phones. When we got there, the military had started taking over operations, as far as what aircraft were coming in or going out.

"It was crazy -- people were everywhere. Buildings were destroyed. People were eating, sleeping, cooking and even showering in the streets," he recalled.

For many of the Task Force members, they had seen horrible destruction before. But for Lazzari, it was the first time he had witnessed destruction of this magnitude.

"A lot of the guys I was there with were 15- to 20-year vets, and a lot of them went through 9/11. There, they were digging out friends; in Haiti, they were digging out strangers, but they said it was still comparable," Lazzari said. "Me, personally, that was probably the worst thing I’ve seen or been a part of."

Each member of the task force had a specific role in the search and rescue mission. From rescue specialists and structural specialists to logistics specialists and Hazmat tech specialists, which was Lazzari’s role.

"As a task force, we found six live victims," he said. "The whole team supported one another in accomplishing our mission."

Lazzari said being picked to be a part of the task force was an extremely humbling experience.

"I was by far the most junior guy there," he said. "I was working with New York City’s best rescue technician specialists ... Some of these guys were true heroes. One of our task force leaders was Chief Joe Downy. His family is a legacy in the fire department. Just to work with him and the other guys -- I felt very lucky to be a part of that."

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Page Last Modified: Tue, May 4, 2010