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Firefighter Justin Hespeler (Fire Department of New York City, New York)

Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor

On the morning of November 20, 2021, Ladder 174 responded to a report of fire in a private dwelling in Brooklyn, New York. While responding, all units were informed of people possibly trapped inside the building.

Firefighter Hespeler was assigned as the ladder company chauffeur and upon arrival, he positioned the apparatus. He then began to size up the best possible entry into the building. The front of the 2-story peaked roof building was heavily involved in fire, venting out all the front windows on the first and second floors, both front doors, and it was also venting through the roof skylight. Initial reports indicated that the stairs to the second floor were compromised.

Knowing access from the front wasn't possible, Firefighter Hespeler made his way to the rear. There were civilians in the rear yard that had just jumped from the second floor windows screaming that there was still a baby in a crib on the second floor. Heavy black smoke was pushing under pressure from both rear windows on the second floor. A firefighter had already placed a ladder to the rear window and entered the building. Firefighter Hespeler saw an outside team climbing their ladder to search the adjoining bedroom, so he began ascending the ladder to assist a firefighter. At that time, it was communicated via radio that the stairs to the second floor were still heavily on fire and had partially collapsed, further delaying access.

Firefighter Hespeler, knowing there would be no interior access to the second floor, donned his self-contained breathing apparatus and entered the punishing environment to search for the baby. Upon entering the window, he found himself on top of a bed, exposed to extreme heat and zero visibility, which forced him to the floor. At this time, an urgent message was transmitted regarding an issue with the initial attack line, and Battalion 58 ordered all members to exit the second floor. Firefighter Hespeler, knowing that he needed to exit quickly, performed a rapid search of the area for the reported crib and baby. He located the crib and found an unresponsive baby, and he transmitted that over his radio, and removed the baby to the window he had entered. Another firefighter was at the window on top of the portable ladder to assist. Firefighter Hespeler handed the unresponsive child out of the window to the other firefighter to deliver to EMS personnel for life saving medical treatment.

Firefighter Hespeler demonstrated great courage and decisiveness as he was forced to operate in zero visibility without the protection of a hose line, with two floors involved in heavy fire. The 5-week-old baby that he found and removed was undeniably saved by his actions. Firefighter Hespeler put himself at great personal risk operating in perilous conditions without regard for his own safety.

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Date Created: November 15, 2023