It was exactly five weeks since Suffolk County police officer Avital Donnenfeld saved a West Babylon family from a house fire.
On Tuesday at the First Precinct, the Hoffman family reunited with Officer Donnenfeld for the first time since the blaze.
The parents, Theresa and Jason, embraced him with hugs, while the cop gifted little Nicholas, 12, and Ian, 6, two SCPD hoodies.
“It was the best present we ever received,” said Theresa, moments before seeing the police officer enter the room filled with her family, police officers and media.
“You don’t find many people willing to go into danger when most people are trying to run away,” said Theresa.
Around 3:55 a.m. on Dec. 31, the 14-year veteran was on patrol when he spotted a haze in the sky. After further investigation, he discovered smoke spewing from 197 Ecker Avenue — that’s the Hoffman family’s address.
Without hesitation or proper fire-resistant equipment on, the police officer jolted to the front door, banged on the door until Nicholas and Ian answered.
Nicholas was awoken by the family’s smoke alarm; he then woke his younger brother and headed to the door. The parents said the kids knew to head to the door as part of the family’s safety plan in case of an emergency.
Inside, Theresa was warning Jason to get out of the shower. The union steamfitter was getting ready for work that morning.
“Your hearing everything but our feet weren’t moving,” said Theresa, who’s an elementary school teacher.
Donnenfeld quickly spotted the husband and wife and escorted them outside safely, moments before the house fully engulfed in flames.
“I will forever be grateful that he happened to be on patrol looking to make sure our neighborhood was safe,” said Theresa.
The police officer was awarded for heroics by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart with a proclamation.
“We don’t always get to see outcomes like this one,” said Bellone. “But I have no doubt that everyone involved here is safe and had such a positive outcome because of the quick thinking and bravery of Officer Donnenfeld.”
The cause of the fire, which began in the garage, is unknown, said the family. The family lost most of their belongings, including their beloved dog Riley, who woke Theresa that morning. She was a 2-year-old Jack Russell Terrier.
Since the burning, the Hoffmans have seen an outpouring of support from the community, including a friend starting a GoFundMe page that raised over $36,000 for the family.
“We are so grateful,” Theresa told GreaterBabylon. “We have more now than ever before.”
The Hoffmans’ house is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by next year.