Nassau University Medical Center treats burns of injured deputy fire chief


The Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow provided life-saving care to a deputy fire chief last week, after he was seriously burned in an accident at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy in Old Bethpage.

According to Michael Uttaro, the Nassau County Fire Marshal, around 10:30 a.m. on May 9, the deputy chief, who works as an instructor at the academy, was setting up an exercise called a “shipboard fire training.” 

Firefighters learn how to extinguish a live fire on a prop of a boat or ship, Uttaro explained. 

“As they were setting up to get ready for the live fire portion of that training, there was combustible liquids that were ignited, causing a flash fire,” Uttaro said. “The deputy chief instructor sustained serious burns.”

The fire was quickly extinguished, and the Plainview Volunteer Fire Department transported the injured instructor to NUMC, which has a 12,000-square foot burn center. 

Aside from Stony Brook University Hospital in Suffolk County, NuHealth — the health care organization that oversees NUMC’s operations — offers the only other center on Long Island that can effectively treat serious burns. Additional burn units are in Brooklyn and Queens.

“The Plainview fire department was quickly on the scene, which his part of their protocols, and transported him here to NUMC, which is our primary burn center here in Nassau County — and that’s why we’re happy he’s here,” Uttaro said. “He was here within just a couple of minutes. He was treated in the emergency room, he was evaluated, and he was quickly brought up to the burn center at NUMC for evaluation and further treatment.”

Uttaro was asked at a news conference on May 9 if these sorts of incidents occur frequently at the training facility.

“Things happen like this from time to time — I couldn’t really comment on how often it happens,” he said. “But when you’re dealing with firefighter experiences, whether it is a live fire in a building or a house, or training, especially a live fire training, there’s always inherent dangers.”

Uttaro added the county and training facility have a slew of safety protocols in place, so that if incidents do occur, those on the scene are equipped to quickly deal with them.

“Sometime, the students may receive some type of a burn or a minor medical issue,” he added, “but is definitely not a common occurrence that occurs.”

The instructor, who was not identified, sustained first, second and third degree burns to his hands, thighs, and torso, and is expected to survive, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Grace Ting said. 

He did not suffer smoke inhalation related injuries, so he did not need to be treated in the hospital’s hyperbaric chamber, which is an enclosed space filled with high-pressure oxygen.

“He’s in good spirits,” Uttaro told reporters last week. “He’s awake an alert and talking to people. His family and folks from the fire academy are here as well.”

The Nassau County Fire Service Academy is utilized by volunteer fire departments across the county. The property and facility are owned by the county, but it is operated by the Nassau County Vocational Education Extension Board, also known as VEEB. The instructor who sustained burns is an employee of VEEB. 

According to Ting, the instructor’s injuries can be treated with certain types of dressings that cover the wounds, as well as strict isolation of the wounds, to prevent infections. It is too early to tell if he will need a skin graft, she added.

“Any burn is very serious,” Ting said. “And from what I heard of the situation there, he’s very lucky that he’s with us.”

“Today is another prime example of how NUMC is prepared to handle situations that occur, like this that happened earlier today,” NUMC chief executive and president Meg Ryan said. “NUMC has a world class burn unit, and we have the only multichambered hyperbaric in Nassau County. Every day, and especially today, I’m extremely proud of our staff and their great work.”

When serious injuries occur during fires, Uttaro said people immediately think the worst — but he said he knows the protocols in place at the fire academy are solid and helped save the instructor’s life. It is still unclear what caused the fire, he added, and it is under investigation by the Fire Marshal’s Office.

“The right things were in place, and the right things were happening,” he said. “There’s a silver lining to the story, that fact that his injuries weren’t more severe.”