NEW YORK -- A New Jersey firefighter who crawled through smoke and flames in a burning hotel to a rescue three people, including an 8-year-old girl, won a top national award for heroism Wednesday.
The Firehouse Magazine Heroism and Community Service Awards program gave $3,000 to Firefighter Vincent Zito of the Paterson, N.J., Fire Department Company 2.
It was the top monetary award in the seventh annual program, the largest of its kind in the country.
Sixty-five other firefighters throughout the country also received prizes in the program, including 14 firefighters from New York state and four from New Jersey.
Zito was cited for his bravery in the Oct. 18, 1984, fire at the Alexander Hamilton Hotel, one of the worst blazes in the city's history. Fourteen people were killed and Zito was hospitalized for a week with acute smoke inhalation and exhaustion.
Zito searched the hotel hallways for people stranded in the dense smoke and heat. When he found an unconscious 8-year-old girl on the seventh floor, he gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, dragged her back to an apartment and handed her to a comrade who carried her down an aerial ladder.
Zito went back to the smoky hallway and found two more unconscious people. After trying in vain to drag their bodies to safety, the firefighter, who was near collapse from exhaustion and smoke inhalation, directed fellow firefighters to the victims.
'Firefighter Vincent Zito's courage and dedication is in the finest tradition of America's bravest,' the magazine said.
Winning the second prize of $2,000 was Brooklyn Firefighter Guy Warren of Ladder 175 for his bravery in three separate rescues in a burning apartment building.