A volunteer firefighter who helped douse a house fire on Long Island tragically learned moments later that his older brother had been killed in the blaze.
Firefighter Rich Zdenek, 22, was told of the tragic coincidence at the fire scene in Selden early Sunday morning by his department's chief.
"I fell to the floor and cried and said to myself, 'This can't be happening. This can't be happening,'" Zdenek said Wednesday.
Zdenek had been one of the first volunteers to arrive at the raging fire, and armed with a hose, almost singlehandedly put out the flames.
What he didn't know was that his older brother, Henry, 26, was trapped in another area of the two-story house.
"There's nothing worse than telling a guy a person we just pulled out is related to him," said Selden Fire Chief Tony Ryan.
Friends of the elder Zdenek lived in the Campo Avenue home, and Rich Zdenek knew it was a hangout of his brother.
He recognized the address on his fire beeper, and before leaving home to answer the emergency call, prayed Henry had stayed home that night.
"I walked to his bedroom door which is right next to mine and I held onto the door handle and said, 'Please God, be in here,'" Zdenek said.
But Henry Zdenek's room was empty.
At the burning house, Rich Zdenek charged inside, and according to his chief, "did what he was supposed to do."
As he looked at the remains of the condemned home, Zdenek, a firefighter for five years, vowed to keep answering emergency calls like this one.
"My brother would not want me to stop what I'm doing," said Zdenek.