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Staten Island Man Looks For Firefighter Who Saved His Life When He Choked

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A Staten Island man was searching Sunday for the firefighter who he said saved his life last week.

As CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported, the man was choking on food Friday night when the unidentified firefighter jumped in to help.

Juan Camacho said he owes his life to a man who vanished nearly as quickly as he appeared.

"I would love to say thank you again, sure," Camacho said. "Come on -- the guy saved my life."

On Friday night, Camacho was enjoying dinner with his wife at Da Noi, a popular Italian restaurant on Staten Island, when a piece of lamb became lodged in his throat.

"I had a tooth extraction a week before, so I couldn't really chew all that well on that side. So what starts to happen? I start to choke," he said. "My wife gets up thinking she could do the Heimlich but she can't out of nowhere I feel arms reach around me and saved my life."

The Good Samaritan's arms belonged to a man who said he was an off-duty firefighter. He was eating dinner with his pregnant wife at the table next to Camacho.

Ilir Rugova was their waiter.

"He was having his dinner, and he starts coughing. You know, it gets a little serious," Rugova said, "and everybody seems to surround him, but we thought like he got past it."

"At that very moment, my arms stiffened from trying to pull, like I grabbed the table," Camacho said. "I saw my life flash in a second and the next thing I knew, I could breathe again."

The firefighter, who only told Camacho his name was Steve, used the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the trapped food and then humbly walked away.

Artist Scott Lobaido witnessed the life-saving act.

"The fireman just came back here -- his wife was sitting here -- and he just sat down like nothing happened," Lobaido said. "It was like a Clint Eastwood movie. it was the coolest thing."

"We said it was kind of like fate," Camacho said. "I mean, how many chances do you have a fireman sitting next to you when you're choking?"

And here's the kicker -- Camacho wouldn't leave the restaurant without paying his bill, and of course, he picked up the check for the man who saved his life.

CBS2 tried to contact the hero firefighter by reaching out to the FDNY. But they too did not know who the mystery hero was.

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