NEW CASTLE (KDKA) — Investigators are looking into the third arson in 10 days in New Castle.
The latest one happened Sunday night at the now empty Black Whale Bar building and it put a firefighter in danger.
“We were on the landing right there and we decided to come down. I stepped out of the door and he stayed in the door,” Firefighter Tom Bulisco said.
The fire was already going gangbusters when New Castle firefighters got there.
“My assistant on the scene immediately called a general alarm,” says Fire Chief Tom Masciarello.
Attacking the fire was tough enough. Three firefighters pouring water inside on the first floor decided to get out. Two made it to safety. A third, Lt. John Onufrak, was halfway down a stairway when the ceiling let go.
“That’s when the big stuff hit me and then it knocked me down and collapsed the stairs and that’s when I got pinned,” he said.
Falling debris pushed him within two or three feet of the door.
“And they said they could see my hand and my head,” Onufrak said.
Fellow firefighters plus two police officers, who had on no protective gear, went to the rescue.
“At the outset, we couldn’t get him out,” Masciarello said. “His air pack was stuck on some debris.”
“One guy undid one strap that came down,” says Onufrak, “and they cut the other strap.”
With the rescue underway, one wall began bowing out. Twenty minutes after John Onufrak was safe, that wall gave way.
A request is being made for an emergency demolition.
The rescued firefighter’s air supply remains tangled in this wreck of a building – a reminder of how close a call this was.
“I’d say thank you but that’s not enough. Someone that saves your life, you know, I just want to say thank you to all the guys that were there for me,” Onufrak said.