Updated: 04/11/2014 8:38 PM
Created: 04/11/2014 2:50 PM WHEC.com
By: Janet Lomax
He says he was dead. News10NBC spoke with a retired Rochester Police officer who was trapped in a high-rise building five and a half years ago.
Officer Gerardo "Gerry" Vazquez took a medical retirement last year after 21 years on the force. On Saturday, he's being honored at what he chooses to call a celebration of life. He has good reason to celebrate.
Back in December of 2008 Vazquez responded to a fire at St. Simons Terrace on St. Paul Street. Flames were shooting out of windows on the 5th floor and he says people were screaming.
Officer Vazquez ran into the lobby of the building but there were no stairs leading up--just an elevator.
The stairwell was on the outside of the building. He jumped on an elevator and when he got to the 5th floor he says he was hit with smoke, heavy smoke.
"The doors opened, I stepped into the floor and the next think you know, I'm going down to my knees saying, 'Please God don't let me die, don't let me die'."
Officer Vazquez was trapped for 20 to 25 minutes. Firefighters say the elevator car was in between floors. He said, "They found me unconscious, no pulse and they rushed me to the hospital. The fire department worked on me all the way to the hospital and it was bad, I was dead."
Vazquez and three others were rushed to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation. He was there for a month. He lost 40 pounds and his lungs are scarred for life. But today, with 53-percent lung capacity, he works out every morning at the gym.
And for the first time he went back to the scene of that fire today. It is hard for him. He says when he looks at the high-rise, he thinks of flames and the people screaming. But he also realizes what happened to him is a miracle.
Officer Vazquez said, "I was given a second chance on life. I'm happy to be alive, nothing ever bothers me."
He is expecting more than 100 people to attend his party Saturday night...friends and family and his brothers and sisters in blue.