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Bell Atlantic Employee, Victor Diaz, Wins Award for Heroism
Technician's Quick Thinking Saved 12 People in '96 Blaze
September 11, 1997
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
(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.)