By Steve Grogan
As two 18-year-old twins received their badges as new probationary volunteers in the Lynbrook Fire Department on Long Island in August, two longtime firefighters stood in the back of the room with big smiles. Those two firefighters, Ex-Captain PJ Curran of Truck Company and Ex-Captain Joseph Rice of Engine Company, helped save the lives of these boys 18 years ago when they were newborns.
Back on July 13, 1998, Lynbrook residents Christine Bavaro and her husband, Angelo, were returning in their car from a doctor visit for their twin babies born on April 9, 1998, when three-month-old Luke, who weighed just 2 pounds, 6 ounces at birth, was having difficulty breathing. Also in the car was Luke’s twin brother, Jake, who had weighed only 3 pounds, 10 ounces at birth. Suddenly, everything went wrong. Luke wasn’t breathing. They immediately stopped the car at Sunrise Highway and Peninsula Boulevard and the mother ran to a nearby home for help. She told the homeowner to call for help because her baby was not breathing.
The Lynbrook Fire Department was notified and firefighters’ pagers went off. Ex-Captain Rice, then an EMT and working as a plumber only a block away from that intersection, raced to the scene. Ex-Captain Curran, an AEMT, was driving on Sunrise Highway at the time. Christina would tell the local newspapers that before she had gotten back to the car, the fire department sirens were sounding and the two firefighters suddenly appeared.
Rice jumped into the backseat of their vehicle and, after checking baby Jake, grabbed Luke from his car seat. Luke was not breathing. In fact, he was already blue. Rice immediately put the baby’s head back to open his airway while manipulating his jawbone. He also stimulated his feet to get him to react and breathe. After some anxious moments, Luke finally took a breath, then a second. But, his breathing was labored.
Meanwhile, Curran took baby Jake and held him, wrapping him in a blanket to keep him warm and also to watch his breathing as both babies were using apnea monitors at home. An apnea machine monitors the baby’s breathing while sleeping and sounds an alarm when the baby stops breathing.
A Lynbrook Police officer arrived with oxygen followed by the Lynbrook Fire Department ambulance. The firefighters and medical technicians on the ambulance continued to support Luke’s breathing with oxygen while in transport to Winthrop University Hospital. Luke’s breathing began to improve. Jake was also taken in the ambulance so he could be monitored. According to the local newspaper, “Doctors credited quick response by Lynbrook emergency medical technicians with saving an infant boy’s life.”
At the hospital, Luke was put into intensive care, where he spent the next seven days. Also, according to that newspaper, the doctor told the mother that if they hadn’t arrived at the hospital when they did, the “situation might have been tragic.” Additionally, it was found that Jake also exhibited some of the same signs of a virus that had affected Luke. But Jake, who weighed more, was stronger and better able to fight it with an antibiotic. Doctors believed it was a salmonella-type poisoning that caused the problem with both babies.
Two months after this incident and after the twins were back home on their apnea monitors, the Lynbrook Fire Department’s Floodlight Unit responded to the Bavaro home after they lost power during a tornado in September 1998. The monitors had no power.
The Floodlight Unit, after first using its huge truck generator, was able to hook up their power cords to a neighbor’s home that had electricity. The babies were safe again and back on their monitors.
That same month, the Bavaro family met with the chiefs, firefighters and medical technicians who came to their aid in July. Christine Bavaro kissed them all and thanked them. The Local News-Lynbrook USA newspaper said that the mother noted that the incident on Sunrise Highway with Luke was on Friday the 13th and said, “It was a bad day that turned into a good day.”
Although both Luke and Jake are joining the truck company where Curran is a member, they never mentioned to anyone over the past few months that they were the babies helped by the firefighters in 1998. It was by accident that the twins mentioned that they had wanted to join the fire department after being saved by the firefighters 18 years ago. It was then that everyone realized who these boys were.
Back on August 16, Luke and Jake received their badges and their turnout gear with Rice and Curran watching. The new firefighters are probationary for the next year while they undergo required training and schooling at the Nassau County Fire Service Training Academy as well as local training in Lynbrook. They also began attending Molloy College in September.
When these now-young men were asked why they wanted to join the department, Jake said, “We wanted to give back to the community that helped us. Being a firefighter makes us feel a part of this community and we want to do our part after we saw what the firefighters do, and did for us.” Luke said, “They (firefighters) volunteered and they helped us survive so maybe one day we have to give back and help someone else.” When Luke and Jake complete their year-long firefighter training and probationary period, they said they would also like to become EMTs to help in even more ways.
Curran, a retired NYPD detective, said, “Finding out that these new firefighters were the babies we saved 18 years ago sends chills up my spine every time I think about it. I’m glad they are joining the fire department to carry on a great tradition of helping the community.”
Rice, now an EMT-CC with the Nassau County Police Department’s Emergency Ambulance Bureau, said, “Although we were thanked back then, I am most impressed by Christine Bavaro coming up to me last week and saying to me again, ‘Thank you for saving my son’s life.’ It meant so much to me. It also makes me think what would have happened if I was not just a block away when that call came in.”
Rice told Newsday in a story published August 30, “You see a limp body there that’s not breathing and then you see him take his first breath – it’s overwhelming.”
The mom told Curran and Rice, “Keep them safe and don’t let anything happen to them.” “We will,” Curran replied. “We’ll take care of them like we did so many years ago.”
Steve Grogan is a 48-year member of Tally-Ho Engine Co. No. 3 of the Lynbrook Fire Department on Long Island. He is an Ex-Captain and the department’s public information officer, writer, photographer and spokesman. He has a master’s degree from CW Post College and is a Vietnam-era veteran who served five years on active duty with U.S. Army Intelligence. He is a Vice Chairman of Nassau County Firefighters Operation Wounded Warrior. He is also a former elected Lynbrook Village Trustee and a retired federal agent.