Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bravest in 60-foot horror plunge


A firefighter with just 20 months on the job slipped from a ladder and plunged four stories to his death yesterday while battling a blaze sparked by a careless cigarette smoker.


Daniel Pujdak


Daniel Pujdak lugged about 100 pounds of gear to the roof of Brooklyn building. As he reached the top of the latter and tried to get on the roof, he lost his footing and fell.

A firefighter with just 20 months on the job slipped from a ladder and plunged four stories to his death yesterday while battling a blaze sparked by a careless cigarette smoker.

Firefighter Daniel Pujdak, 23, of Ladder 146 in Brooklyn, suffered massive head injuries and went into cardiac arrest after falling in front of stunned colleagues.

"Man down! Man down!" yelled fellow firefighters, who heard Pujdak's desperate screams as he plummeted to the sidewalk and rushed to his side as he lay sprawled and bleeding.

Officials said Pujdak, of Fresh Meadows, Queens, fell about 60 feet after climbing a ladder to the roof of the four-story brick building at 83 Meserole St., at Leonard St. in East Williamsburg.

"He always wanted to be a firefighter," said Matthew Pujdak, 23, who is following his brother into the FDNY.

"He always talked about helping people. He wanted to make people's lives a little better. I can't believe he's gone."

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said Pujdak, who was loaded down with more than 100 pounds of gear, including a power saw, lost his footing as he moved from the ladder to the roof's parapet.

Pujdak, who graduated from the Fire Academy in September 2005, is the first FDNY fatality since August 2006, when two firefighters died in a Bronx fire.

Mayor Bloomberg said Pujdak's death did not have to happen.

"Tragically, this fire and resulting death could have been prevented," said Bloomberg, who rushed to Bellevue Hospital, where the young firefighter died. "The fire marshal believes the fire was caused by an unextinguished cigarette left by the window."

Officials said the cigarette, left unattended in an artist's studio, ignited the wooden window sill at about 5 p.m., causing a plume of smoke that made the blaze appear larger than it was.

"The window sills were burning," Scoppetta said. "That was the extent of the fire, we later learned."

Scoppetta said Pujdak, who was wearing an oxygen mask and tank, lost his footing as he tried to maneuver around a bulkhead on the roof.

"It looked like he slipped. He was on the roof and then, boom," said Billy Memec, 29, who witnessed Pujdak's fatal drop.

"I saw him losing his footing and he cartwheeled down from the top," said Ben Sommers, 24, who lives across the street from the 87-year-old building. "It's bad to see anybody fall, but it's really hard when it's somebody who's helping people."

Pujdak's parents, Leo and Christina, and his brother Matthew were at the firefighter's side when he died. Bloomberg and Scoppetta tried to comfort Pujdak's heartbroken family last night.

"As you would expect, they are devastated," Bloomberg said. "It's a terrible loss for his family and it's a terrible loss for the city. It reminds us how dangerous a job firefighting is."

More than 60 firefighters who responded to the call extinguished the blaze, which was confined to the fourth-floor studio, officials said.

jlemire@nydailynews.com

With Xana O'Neill, Michael White, Warren Woodberry Jr., Tamer El-Ghobashy and Kerry Burke

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