A self-described “drunken bum” who hangs out on the streets of Queens became a hero Tuesday when he caught a 2-year-old boy who was dropped out the window of a burning house by his mother.
“Drunk as I am, I knew what to do right then and there,” said John Byrnes, 45, after being examined for minor injuries at New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens in Flushing. “‘Throw me your child,’ really, that’s what I said. I’m laughing now, but it’s unbelievable.”
Byrnes, a homeless man who said he lives in a park in College Point, was walking by at about 11:10 a.m. when he saw smoke rising from the white, two-family home. Byrnes banged frantically on the front door to alert those inside, but no one responded, he said.
“All of a sudden, flames came out and a lady carrying a baby was screaming out the second-floor window, ‘My baby!”’ Byrnes recollected. “I said, ‘Throw the baby!’ She didn’t want to. I convinced her to throw her baby out the window and I caught her baby.”
When asked how heavy the 27-pound Justin Novoa felt in his arms, the burly, 6-foot-2 man responded, “Heavy - heavy enough not to drop.”
Later that afternoon, the boy’s father, Steven Novoa, 28, a construction worker, praised the unlikely hero.
“Thank God for the guy that caught my son,” said Novoa, as his curly haired son tumbled atop his mother’s hospital bed. “He’s like a guardian angel. God bless him. He was in the right place at the right time.”
His wife, Sonia Lopez, 27, also expressed her appreciation.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said, while being treated for smoke inhalation at the hospital. “My house was engulfed in smoke, and I couldn’t see the stairs. I was yelling for help.”
Lopez said she was afraid to follow Byrne’s instructions. “He said, ‘Just throw him.’ I reached out and let him go, and he caught him for me. I was very scared, but I just wanted to get him out of there. I didn’t think I was going to get out.”
Frank McCarton, a Fire Department spokesman, praised Byrnes’s quick response.
“We’d have used a ladder. But this guy did the right thing,” McCarton said.
Lopez was later rescued by firefighters, who extended a ladder to the second-floor window. She said she felt the flames consuming the house as she climbed down. Dr. Jeffrey Schor, director of pediatric surgery at the hospital, said Justin appeared to be unharmed.
Byrnes, a welder by trade who is unemployed, said he was born and raised in College Point. After being examined at the hospital, he caught a bus back to the park where he lives.
“I ain’t no hero …,” Byrnes said. “I’m a drunken bum, and I live in a little park.”.