September 11, 1997
|Media contacts:||John Bonomo|
NEW YORK--When Victor Diaz saw people trapped in a burning Harlem building one day in March 1996, he used his backhoe to save the lives of 12 people, including seven children. Today (9/11), the Bell Atlantic employee will be awarded the prestigious Theodore N. Vail Medal for Public Service in recognition of his quick thinking and heroic actions.
Diaz, a 49-year-old construction equipment operator for Empire City Subway, a Bell Atlantic subsidiary, will receive the Vail Award at a luncheon (11:30 am) in his honor at Bell Atlantic headquarters at 1095 Avenue of the Americas (at 42nd Street) in Manhattan. He is the first winner of the prestigious Vail Award since Bell Atlantic merged with NYNEX last month. He has worked for the company for 26 years.
The award, named in honor of the first president of the Bell System, recognizes telephone industry employees who have demonstrated heroism and unusual merit in the course of doing their job.
"Victor Diaz showed tremendous personal courage, skill, judgment and resourcefulness," said Arnold Eckelman, group president for the Bell Atlantic Network Group. "His actions epitomize the qualities that Bell Atlantic stands for, so it's appropriate that we award him the highest honor our company can bestow."
On March 12, 1996, Diaz was excavating part of the intersection of 127th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem so other telephone technicians could upgrade cables in the area. The Yonkers resident and father of three became an instant New York hero when he used his backhoe to lower 12 people from a fire near where he was working.
Diaz said that once he heard a woman's screams, he turned his backhoe toward the building, which already was engulfed in flames. He said that several people were on the ledge of the structure, and were beginning to panic because they could not free the fire escape ladder.
He raised the bucket part of his backhoe up to the second floor of the building and brought six people down to safety. Quickly, he again raised the arm of the backhoe back to the second-floor ledge, enabling another six people to be lowered to safety. Seven other people, including three firefighters were injured in the blaze.
After his valiant acts for the day, Diaz returned to work.
Diaz' heroics received widespread media attention from New York City's newspapers and radio and television stations. He was the first private citizen to receive the "Caring New Yorker Award" from New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco.
The new Bell Atlantic - formed through the merger of Bell Atlantic and NYNEX - is at the forefront of the new communications, information and entertainment industry. With 40 million telephone access lines and 5.5 million wireless customers worldwide, Bell Atlantic companies are premier providers of advanced wireline voice and data services, market leaders in wireless services and the world's largest publishers of directory information. Bell Atlantic companies are also among the world's largest investors in high-growth global communications markets, with operations and investments in 21 countries.
(Note to reporters and editors: Victor Diaz will be available for interviews during the afternoon of Thursday, September 11. Please call 212 395-0500 to arrange an interview.)