"I just look at myself as a piece in a giant puzzle of people who work in emergency services," said D'Antonio, a Union City native who currently resides in North Bergen. "I'm not a hero."
NHRFR serves five towns - North Bergen, Guttenberg, West New York, Union City and Weehawken. "This is what we do and who we are," D'Antonio said. "We help people. It's part of our day-to-day thing. If we don't make a difference as firefighters, then who's going to do it?"
In the case of this horrific incident, apparently no one else would. Officials said that people were standing around watching but did not try to get help for the woman.
D'Antonio was serving as the acting battalion chief at the NHRFR firehouse on 49th Street and Broadway in West New York last Saturday when an elderly man frantically jumped out of his car and was asking for help.
"He didn't speak much English," D'Antonio said. "So I couldn't make out if he was saying 'fire' or 'fight.' So I jumped in my car and drove around the corner to see what was going on. When I got around the corner [to 49th Street, between Palisade Avenue and Hudson Street], I noticed a large crowd in the middle of the street. When I got out of the car, I was looking for kids fighting, because that's what it looked like from the car. I figured I would call the police and let them respond."
But when D'Antonio got closer to the scene, he heard someone scream, "He's stabbing her."
"With that, the crowd stepped back a little and I got to see what was happening," D'Antonio said.
D'Antonio witnessed 33-year-old Elvis Santos of Union City hovering over his former girlfriend, whose name has been withheld for safety reasons. D'Antonio said he was stabbing her.
"I saw her lying in a pool of blood," D'Antonio said. "She was on the ground and the guy was on top of her in a bent position. At first, I thought he was helping her, but then he [allegedly] makes the stabbing motion."
D'Antonio got on the NHRFR communications radio and signaled that an ambulance was needed at the scene and that a woman had been stabbed.
"I yelled at the man to get back and get away from her," D'Antonio said. "He looked at me and I think he might have thought I was a cop. He then [allegedly] presented the knife. I just jumped over him, pushed him away, and went to help her."
D'Antonio said that he never gave it a second thought that he might be risking his own life with a dangerous man.
"Never once did I fear for my life," D'Antonio said. "If the worst case scenario came up, I thought I could defend myself."
In his younger days, D'Antonio was a Golden Gloves welterweight boxing champion in 1980, so he knew how to use his hands if necessary.
Blood spurting from lung
"But I was only thinking of saving her," D'Antonio said. "I saw the blood spurting out and I knew it was bad. I felt air was coming out of her chest, so I knew he had punctured her lung. He raised the knife and came at me, but I told him to back up and drop the knife. But he just stood there, holding the knife. He didn't come at me again."
D'Antonio put his emergency service training to work. He put his hand on her throat, which was slit side to side, to curtail the bleeding. At that point, D'Antonio met eyes with the victim.
"She said, 'Please help me. I don't want to die,' " said D'Antonio. "I held her throat with one hand and her chest with the other. It seemed like hours before help arrived."
D'Antonio then had communication with Santos. He left the button down on the microphone to his walkie-talkie so the NHRFR communication center was able to hear every word and record the incident, which may be used in prosecution against Santos.
"I just keyed the mike and left it on," D'Antonio said. "I tried to talk to him, to calm him down. I told him that all I wanted to do was help the woman. That he had to step back and drop the knife, but that I wasn't leaving her."
While the suspect stood there with the bloody knife in his hand, the crowd of approximately 30 spectators did nothing. They didn't try to apprehend Santos or assist in the medical care for the victim, officials said.
Firefighter Steve Alvarez was the next on the scene. A certified Emergency Medical Technician, Alvarez put his medical training to work and assisted in the care for the injured woman.
Rescue 1, Ladder 3 of the NHRFR, with captains Sean Miick and Dave Donnaroma, arrived soon after. Finally, the West New York police arrived and apprehended Santos while an ambulance came and transported the victim to the Jersey City Medical Center, where she still remains in critical condition, although doctors are hopeful that she will survive.
"At first, I was pretty depressed because I didn't think she would make it," said D'Antonio. "I did everything I could to help her. I was the last one to see her. I would always remember those eyes. Nothing would ever take that away."
D'Antonio has received word that the victim was making some improvement.
"That makes me feel like I hit the lottery," said D'Antonio.
Santos, of Hudson Avenue, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, attempted murder and illegal possession of a weapon, according to police reports.
Police said that when he was interviewed by them, Santos said that he had a relationship with the woman, but he became angered when she wanted to end the relationship. He said that he had the knife to slice some fruit. Santos is still being held at the Hudson County Jail in Kearny.
At press time, he had not received a bail hearing, nor did he receive a date in Central Judicial Processing.
As soon as the woman recovers enough to have visitors, D'Antonio and NHRFR Co-Director Michael DeOrio plan to visit her.
"After speaking with Bob, he thinks it's a common thing that anyone would do," said DeOrio. "But that's not the truth. Most people wouldn't do it. But especially with no weapon of his own, Bob went in there and thought of only one thing, saving that girl's life. It's not related to fire service. In this case, he went way beyond what was expected. It's a remarkable act."
D'Antonio's colleagues agree.
"Bob went far above and beyond the call," said Deputy Chief Nick Gazzillo. "If Bob's there, then only good things are going to happen. In a case like this, he was the man to be there."
"He doesn't think he's a hero, but he is," said Deputy Chief Frank Montagne. "He's always helping someone, on and off the job. He's a great guy and we couldn't have a better officer. I'm very proud of what he did. He makes us all look good."
"It's an extraordinarily brave act," NHRFR said Co-Director Jeff Welz. "That shows an unbelievable commitment to the job, even keeping the mike open so there could be a transcript of the entire incident. He made everyone involved in fire service proud of him."
However, there was a hint of disappointment in one aspect of the incident.
"I'm a little disappointed in the community," said D'Antonio. "They took the time to watch and observe what was happening and they stood there and did nothing. They didn't try to call the police or EMS to help this woman. If not for that elderly gentleman coming to the firehouse, this woman would have died. And that's sad. If you're not going to help, then get away from the scene. Don't stand there and watch. That's even sadder."