The New York City Bronze Medallion, the City's highest civic award, was presented by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to NYCHA Supervisor of Housing Caretakers Felix Vazquez at City Hall on December 16th in recognition of his heroism for saving the life of a one-month-old baby during a fire in the Bronx.
Mr. Vazquez was in his office doing paperwork on the early morning of December 14th, when he received a call on his radio informing him of a fire in a third-floor apartment at Morris Houses' 1460 Washington Avenue. After calling the fire department and an ambulance he ran to the building, arriving minutes later.
When he looked up to the third floor he noticed what appeared to be a white towel waving from the window. Vazquez, who has been a NYCHA employee for almost 20 years, realized that what he was seeing was a baby. He yelled to the woman holding the baby not to drop it, saying he would get his caretakers to stretch out a coat to catch the infant.
Caretakers Luz Jusino, Donald Drayton and Blanco Ramos held onto a coat beneath the window to try to catch the baby if the mother let it go. The baby's mother, Tracinda Foxe, threw her one-month-old Eric Guzman, out the window.
Mr. Vazquez, who is a catcher on the NYCHA softball team, ran to the rescue. "She was panicking, and she just said, 'Catch my baby, catch my baby,'" said Mr. Vazquez. "But she didn't let it go straight, she just threw him. I had to jump over the gate and I caught the baby."
Once he caught the baby he noticed that it was not breathing so he gave it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which he learned years earlier as a lifeguard in the Bronx. After a few breaths the baby began to breathe on its own.
Within minutes FDNY firefighters D.J. Martin and Bobby Eustace burst into the burning apartment, gave Ms. Foxe fresh air and carried her to safety. Both mother and child were taken to Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, where they were treated and released.
"I said, 'God, please save my son,'" Ms. Foxe said. "I prayed that someone would catch him and save his life."
"He coughed and started yelling and crying," said Vazquez. "It's a miracle, just a miracle, especially in the holidays now, and it's a beautiful thing." The father of three added, "I didn't think. I just reacted."
Ms. Foxe has asked Mr. Vazquez to be the baby's godfather and Mr. Vazquez has accepted.
The story of NYCHA's hero caught the attention of media around the world from the U.S. to Canada to Australia to Nigeria. Vazquez was kept busy as he appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, local television and radio programs and a special Saturday night appearance on Sábado Gigante, the international Spanish-language TV program where he was honored with a standing ovation and a special plaque. He was also honored when he was named New Yorker of the Week by NY1.
The Bronze Medallion is designated to be presented by the Mayor to those who have demonstrated exceptional citizenship and outstanding achievement. The recipients come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some are ordinary citizens while others are foreign dignitaries, superstar athletes, and film stars.