MARSHFIELD (CBS) - Four months after he was rescued from a burning house, a Marshfield firefighter is back at work and publicly thanking those who saved him. "The front of this is actually a shield that totally melted," Lt. Joe Kalinowski said, showing WBZ his charred helmet. "It definitely gives you a different perspective on life."
It was early morning November 6th, when he and fellow Marshfield firefighters went on a mutual aid call in the Humarock section of Scituate. They could see the flames when they left their station.
"We could see a house that was fully involved. We knew we had a big fire that we were going to," he said.
On scene, the fire had spread to a house next door. "I was working on the second floor. I was opening up ceilings seeing where the fire was, trying to get ahead of the fire," he remembered. But then, the ceiling began caving in. "I heard somebody yell collapse and I turned to run out of the building," he said. "I took about two steps and then I started feeling the debris, the roof falling down on top of me."
The debris pinned him down, his face up against a couch cushion. "I laid there for a minute thinking this is not going to be good and then I took a couple of breaths and went to get my radio to signal where I was and my condition and I realized at that time that my arms were pinned down in front of me and I couldn't move," he recalled.
He started thinking maybe this was his time. But then thoughts of his family changed that. "I thought about my wife, my kids and said okay I need to do what I can to get out of here so I tried pushing my way out trying to move as much as I could," he said. "It was a little difficult to breathe and at that time panic set in for a couple of minutes and then I calmed down. I heard the captain on the radio say he was looking for the Lieutenant on Engine 2." He was thankful, he said, to realize he was the only one trapped. "I had no idea how much debris was on top of me all I knew was I couldn't move. I could start feeling everything burning. My wet skin started to burn."
He was later told it was 11 minutes from the time the roof collapsed to the time he was rescued, but he admitted it felt longer. "All of a sudden I just felt a relief of the weight that was on top of me and noticed that hands were just on each side pulling me back I remember somebody saying, we got you. We got you," he said.
Lieutenant Kalinowski suffered burns to the back of his head, right shoulder, right upper back, right arm and on the back of his right leg. He thinks they resulted from steam, generated from his own sweat as the heat bore down on him. He's made a strong recovery, but is still receiving outpatient care.
If it were not for his colleagues, he knows his injuries could've been more severe and this story could have had a different ending. One by one, he's thanked them for coming selflessly to his aid. "They did a fantastic job. All the training that we go through they risked their own lives. It was basically a heroic action on their part. The guys from Marshfield and Scituate who went in there because there was a threat of secondary collapse," he said.
Kalinowski wanted to be a firefighter as a child. He found the career more than 15 years ago, and other than concern for what his wife and children would think, was eager to get back on the job. "When I got back after being there a couple of hours it felt like I'd never been gone like I'd missed a couple of shifts and that was it," he said.
His training and that of his colleagues paid off that day. And for that, he is grateful. "I can't say enough positive words to express how happy my family is that, you know, I'm still around," he said.
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