Former Oceanside Fire Department Captain Rich Lerner, was honored at the Nassau County Fire Commission’s meritorious service awards ceremony in West Hempstead on Jan. 28 for his actions in saving Lara, the 14-year-old Oceanside High School student who was hit by a car on her way to school in September.
Lerner, who reportedly performed CPR on the girl minutes after the accident, had been a captain at the OFD’s Engine Company No. 1 on Smith Street, before working at the Nassau County Fire Marshal where he is currently employed.
“He’s a fantastic guy,” Oceanside Fire Chief Kevin Klein said. “He was always a good guy, I can’t say enough about him.”
Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Michael Uttaro, who has worked with Lerner for 19 years, said that Lerner was coincidentally on the scene when Lara was hit. Drawing on his emergency medical technician training as a first responder and fire marshal, he jumped into action to try and sustain Lara’s life, Uttaro said, before an OFD ambulance arrived seconds later.
“The training he received from the fire service and his employment was extremely valuable,” Klein said. “Even if our members are not in the fire truck or ambulance, they’re dispersed throughout the community with this training, and time after time it’s helped people.”
“For Rich to stop and help her, it was obviously a huge part of the success,” Klein said of the team effort to save Lara’s life. “It’s what we’d expect any of our members to do.”
Lara, who was released from the hospital on Jan. 11 was present to watch Lerner receive the honor. She was reportedly able to walk with help of a walker.
“He’s a stand up guy, a hard worker, and it was a great moment to see one of our guys up there honored,” Uttaro said. “He gave this girl a fighting chance.”