By Joanna Fantozzi
Last summer, Lt. Jason Rigoli and his fellow firefighters at Engine 39 and Ladder 16 fought a fierce blaze in a fourth-floor apartment on Park Avenue. For Rigoli, the best part of the night was that the elderly woman he rescued and carried out of the building survived.
On July 23, 2011, in the middle of the night, Engine 39 got a call about a fire. When they arrived, Rigoli, 42, was supposed to be on engine duty, staying behind with the hoses. But because of the large size of the apartment, Rigoli ran into the building to help his fellow firefighters find any victims.
Rigoli soon found Janise Bogard, 81, lying under a table in the living room, caught in some debris. Working fast, he lifted Bogard and carried her through the smoky apartment to the paramedics, ultimately saving her life.
By most definitions, Rigoli’s efforts make him a hero. But Rigoli said he and his fellow firefighters do this all the time and that rescues are a part of the job description.
“You’re going into someone’s worst nightmare and you try to do your best,” said Rigoli. “Just going in to put out a fire—when you come out, you feel like you want to beat your chest.”
Rigoli has been a firefighter for 12 years, working in the South Bronx before he came to the East 67th Street firehouse four years ago. Firefighting is in his blood; he grew up chasing after fire trucks and watching his father and brother in the profession. Today, many of Rigoli’s reports admire his work ethic and bravery.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he rescued her,” said fellow firefighter and former OTTY award winner Kenny Ruane. “He’s a boss, but he has the mentality of a fireman. He always wants to make himself and all of us better.”
Before he started putting out fires, Rigoli earned a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and worked as a professional chef. He was a cook and pastry chef and eventually owned his own restaurant in Massapequa called Opal Basil.
After working in the culinary world for several years, Rigoli became a firefighter in 2000 and found his passion with the New York Fire Department. However, he stays in touch with his culinary side and still cooks for the firehouse on occasion. Some of his signature dishes include spicy Thai chicken and stuffed pork loin, and he took second place in a 9/11 charity cook-off event called September Space that pitted firefighters against New York City chefs.
The rest of Rigoli’s life is devoted to his family. He lives in Lindenhurst, Long Island, with his wife Kim and his five children and he helps out with his sons’ baseball teams as an assistant coach.
Rigoli emphasized that even for smaller emergencies like a stuck elevator or a gas leak, the Upper East Side’s firefighters are always contributing to the neighborhood.
“It’s not just me—it’s every firehouse in the area,” said Rigoli. “We’re there for the community every time of the day.”
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