PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Weeks after a tragic fire on Bowdoin Street in Providence, a firefighter who was trapped inside a burning building is speaking to Eyewitness News.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 6, more than 100 firefighters filled Bowdoin Street as they battled flames that extended to several homes. Providence firefighters Dan Rinaldi and Jay LaSalle had just finished a check inside one of the homes, so they decided to head into another.
“When you looked at this house, you knew there was a little bit of fire in the roof, but we do this every single day,” Rinaldi said.
Rinaldi and LaSalle refilled their air supplies and went inside. But not too long after, the pair says something collapsed and everything went haywire.
LaSalle’s first thought: “Where’s Danny?”
“I got down and crawled over to him, and that’s when he told me he was trapped,” LaSalle said. “His radio was broken and I had to call mayday.”
Rinaldi said he was crushed by bricks and shingles, realizing the top of the building had collapsed on top of him. Because his radio was broken, LaSalle had to make the Mayday call — standing about 15 feet away from Rinaldi, who couldn’t move.
The pair tells us 14 seconds passed between the time the roof collapsed on Rinaldi and when LaSalle made the call. It would be another 30 minutes before Rinaldi was freed from the fire. So, he began thinking and making plans.
“I think it was a realistic conclusion to come to thinking that there may be nobody coming to get you at this point,” Rinaldi said.
“When I got on [the force] 12 years ago, Danny was one of the senior guys. A mentor. Someone to look up to. Now he’s a good friend. He’s someone I work with regularly. I’m thinking I’m watching him die.”
LaSalle stayed by Rinaldi’s side for as long as he could, hoping to not have to leave his friend and colleague. He helped put out the fire that was burning Rinaldi’s leg, and then LaSalle directed the other firefighters up to the second floor to free him. Eventually, LaSalle’s air supply ran out.
“Standing in that stairwell, I’m thinking about Danny,” he said. “When I got on [the force] 12 years ago, Danny was one of the senior guys. A mentor. Someone to look up to. Now he’s a good friend. He’s someone I work with regularly. I’m thinking I’m watching him die.”
Luckily, Rinaldi had been conserving his air while he laid on the second floor trapped by bricks and shingles. Using the jaws of life, Rinaldi was eventually freed. He is now temporarily out of work as he continues to recover from the burns and trauma from the collapse he suffered that night. But, he and LaSalle remain thankful for the team effort that saved him.
“He’s out because of the guys and ladies that you work with,” LaSalle explained. “Because they did their job beyond expectations to get him out. Gives you confidence going into those situations that you have a great group of people you work with that you can rely on.”
Rinaldi calls this entire situation a near-miss for the Providence Fire Department, but a tragedy for the community who lost a member during that terrifying fire.