Rockvile firefighter's self-rescue hailed as remarkable'
Veteran of department escaped after falling through floor of burning house in Lincoln Park
Chris Rossi/The Gazette
County fire officials called a firefighter's self-rescue after falling through a floor into an enflamed basement "remarkable."
Joel Rogozinski of Potomac was searching for victims of a fire that started in a home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Rockville early Thursday morning when the weakened floor beneath him collapsed, sending him into the "seed of the fire," county fire and rescue spokesman Pete Piringer said.
The 23-year-old caught himself before falling through the floor and attempted to pull himself up. When he felt himself burning, he lowered himself into the fire instead, Rockville Volunteer Fire Department President Eric Bernard said.
Rogozinski then found a window in the basement that he had seen when he checked the perimeter of the house before entering it. He reached up to the small window that was 5 1/2 feet above the floor, pulled the panes off with his hands and pulled himself out of the basement.
He had to take his helmet and self-contained breathing pack off in order to fit through the window.
Rogozinski suffered burns to 35 percent of his body, with second- and third-degree burns to his arms and legs, Piringer said.
"The intelligence, calmness and strength to do what he did, it's just remarkable," Bernard said. "Had it not been for all those elements, we would be preparing for a funeral today instead of celebrating life."
Fire officials said Rogozinski's injuries are serious, but not life-threatening.
Bernard said Thursday afternoon that the firefighter is being treated in the intensive care unit of the MedStar Burn Unit of Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., where he is in stable condition. He said Rogozinski may be hospitalized for about seven to 10 days and hopes he will be moved from the ICU in the next day or two.
Firefighters responded to a call at about 1:30 Thursday morning at 219 Frederick Ave. after neighbors reported that a utility pole was on fire, said Capt. Oscar Garcia, a spokesman for the county Fire and Rescue Service. Firefighters saw that the house, which was about 10 to 20 feet away from the pole, was on fire.
The two-story Cape Cod-style house was unoccupied at the time and it is believed the fire started in the basement near an electrical panel, Piringer said. Damage is estimated at $275,000, he said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Garcia said.
Attempts to locate the owner of the home were unsuccessful.
Fire officials believe the fire burned undetected for a significant period of time, which caused an area of the floor to become weakened.
There were no other injuries and the fire was quickly put out.
Rogozinski is an eight-year veteran of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, Bernard said.
He joined the department when he was 16 and is considered a "live-in" member of the department, Bernard said. Last year alone, he put in 2,400 hours of volunteer service.
"His residence is the fire house, that's how active he is," Bernard said.
Rogozinski is part of the search and rescue squad, the most sought-out position in the fire department, Bernard said.
This is the second fire in Rockville in five months that sent fire-rescue crews to the hospital.
In early May, three firefighters were injured in a blaze at the Halpine View apartments in the Twinbrook community. They spent weeks in the hospital recovering from serious burns. In that incident, one firefighter fell through the floor.
Piringer said firefighters receive intensive training in "Mayday" situations where firefighters could be in trouble.
"We spend a considerable amount of time on firefighter Maydays, self-rescue and teamwork … it's paid dividends time and time again," Piringer said.