The house at 6 Barrister Drive in Holmdel was fully engulfed in flames when Hazlet Fire Co. Number One entered with a hose to start an interior attack on Sept. 1, 2018.
The mutual aid team from Hazlet was on the ground floor, pulling a two-and-a-half inch hose along, communicating with command in Holmdel. Everything was going as it should.
Then, in a split second, a Hazlet firefighter disappeared.
“The staircase in the floor gave way and he fell,” recalled 2nd Lt. Scott Eack, 49. “The fire was above and below us. I yelled out to him, he yelled back to me.”
Eack laid down at the hole in the floor and offered his arm to the Hazlet firefighter in the basement, who was hanging onto the collapsed interior staircase. Outfitted in heavy turnout gear and a breathing apparatus, the firefighter below couldn’t work his way up without support. Two other firefighters held onto Eack to create a human chain to use all their strength to hoist him out the hole, but it still wasn’t working. As the fire worsened around them, Eack used a hose to keep fire at bay, all the while talking to the firefighter below, keeping physical and verbal contact. Eack was thinking about decreasing oxygen levels. He was also thinking about the man’s two children.
Urgently, a ladder was fetched and lowered into the hole. Eack’s heart sank when his fellow firefighter said he couldn’t find it.
“He yelled out, ‘Where is the ladder?'” Eack said. “That’s when I said, ‘That’s it, I’m calling a Mayday.’ We were physically spent. Our air supply was low.”
For firefighters, calling a Mayday is a worst case scenario. It’s not something they do lightly.
“He could have lost his life if he couldn’t find his way out,” said Eack, who believes it was the right call at that time. “I’m glad it worked out because it was a difficult situation.” With the help of rapid intervention teams, their brother, who had lost his helmet when he fell, was pulled to safety as the fire raged on.
It’s not something Eack talks about much at the firehouse. It’s not something he’ll ever forget either.
On Wednesday night, Eack, a landscaper by day who lives in Keyport on the Hazlet border, was thanked by the Monmouth County Fire Marshal Fred Migliaccio and awarded a Class II Valor Award for his dedication and bravery, in heavy fire conditions, and at great personal risk to his own safety.
Many firefighters turned out for the brief ceremony at the monthly meeting of the Hazlet Township Fire Commissioners, smartly dressed in Class A uniforms to show their respect. The last time a firefighter received a medal of valor in the Hazlet Township Fire District was 2005.
Eack accepted the uniform pin and the medal with his girlfriend Joanie Hausleiter and her 6-year old son, Jacob, surrounded by his fellow firefighters, including his longtime friend, Hazlet Fire Company Chief Chris Alcott. He’s a humble person, he said, and preferred not to make a speech.
He plans to put the box in a glass case at home which holds other souvenirs of his time as a former captain at Liberty Hose and Raritan Hose in Keyport, and associate member of Washington Engine Company in Matawan, where his grandfather was a member.
“This is not something you expect. But it’s an honor if it happens to you,” he said.