Honor awaits firefighters who pulled woman from blaze
By: By Pamela Powers, The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, Superior Telegram
MENOMONIE -- Peter Terry and Larry Zais crawled through the hot, smoky haze that filled the Menomonie apartment, searching for a woman they were told was inside the burning building.
Terry, Zais and other Menomonie Fire Department members responded to a burning apartment on Feb. 25. The weather was unusually cold.
"It was so cold the thermal imaging camera fogged up," Terry recalled, noting temperatures inside the burning building neared 200 degrees. "We started on our hands and knees and started searching in the smoke."
Battling limited vision, the two men felt their way through one bedroom without finding the woman, 22-year-old Elizabeth A. Zakrzewicz.
The two firefighters headed to the next bedroom as they continued to search for the UW-Stout student. They opened a window, clearing that room of smoke, but there was no sign of Zakrzewicz.
Then they heard a voice nearby.
"I heard her groan in the bathroom," said Terry, a 27-year Fire Department veteran. "It was so smoky all I could see were the bottoms of her feet. I grabbed a hold of her arms and shoulders, and Larry grabbed her feet and we got out with her."
Terry and Zais are being recognized for rescuing Zakrzewicz. Both will be inducted into the Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame on Sept. 10 at a ceremony in Appleton. The hall of fame building is located in Superior at the Old Firehouse and Police Museum.
The duo will be the first Menomonie firefighters inducted into the hall.
Terry and Zais credit their fellow firefighters for helping rescue Zakrzewicz, noting they made the rescue possible by containing the heat and flames.
"It's a great honor receiving the award, but to me this is what we're trained to do," said Zais, who has been with the Fire Department for the past eight years after working for the Stanley Fire Department for 10 years.
Terry said that at the time he didn't think about his role in saving Zakrzewicz because he needed to help put out the fire, which firefighters say was caused by improper disposal of smoking materials that ignited a sofa.
"When it was all done, everyone was saying 'good job' and 'way to go,' " he recalled. "It dawned on me then we had saved someone.
"It really is a team award to me," he added. "If everyone didn't do their job, we couldn't have done ours."
Menomonie fire Battalion Chief John Entorf agreed.
"It is a great honor for a job well done by the entire team," he said. "All the factors had to come together, including an early response."
Firefighters responded within three minutes of receiving the fire call, a response time that helped contain the fire more quickly and, more importantly, gaveve firefighters time to rescue Zakrzewicz, Entorf said.
-- Copyright (c) 2010, The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.