The Uniondale community can take pride in Kevin Rivera.
Standing under replicas of a Blue Angels plane and the lunar module at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Oct. 26, the former Uniondale resident was presented with a Good Samaritan Award for rescuing seven members of a Syosset family from their burning house on Sept. 10, 2022.
The elegantly dressed crowd at the American Red Cross Long Island Heroes Celebration stood to give the 23-year-old a prolonged ovation.
Rivera was living near relatives in Uniondale and delivering parcels for Amazon 14 months ago. On the afternoon of the fire, he was dropping off his last package of the day at a home on Bluebird Drive in Syosset.
Black smoke rising from a house across the street caught his eye. He called 911, and then walked onto the lawn and shouted. No one came to the door.
“The fire happened by the window,” Rivera recounted. “The door was in the middle. I knocked on the door and this elderly man opened it. I was pointing to the fire, but he didn’t understand.”
As smoke began to blacken the house’s exterior, Rivera assumed that the man didn’t speak English, and anxiously looked past him into the house. He could see other people inside.
“I grabbed the grandfather,” he said. “I rushed him to the back, toward the kitchen. I saw the grandma, saw a mom holding her infant, and then I saw three kids around in the kitchen. When I saw the mom with the infant, I told myself, I have to do something.”
The confused family did not understand what the gesticulating young man in an Amazon uniform was doing in their kitchen, pulling their grandfather behind him. But Rivera knew there was no time to lose.
“You could feel the heat coming into the house through the kitchen,” he said. “The front of the house was actually breaking down. I felt like my skin was about to peel.”
He ushered the family out the back door. Their two dogs, he said, were trying to get into the house instead of running away, so he grabbed their collars and rescued them, too.
The Syosset Fire Department reached the scene in four minutes. While firefighters battled the blaze, neighbors helped the traumatized family understand what they had escaped.
“Everybody — the neighbors, everybody — came,” Rivera recalled. “They thanked me. They actually put a sign on the front door just for me.”
The rush of attention in the following weeks was heady.
“A neighbor called News12,” Rivera said. “News12 interviewed me. Then it went viral. Then I got called by ABC, Spanish news, Channel 6, then Channel 5 and 7.”
But Rivera did not lose sight of why he had decided to step into the burning house and rescue the family.
“I just rushed in because I didn’t want nobody to die in that house,” he told WCBS-TV.
At the Red Cross ceremony, as he received the Good Samaritan Award from Barry Litwin, CEO of Global Industrial, Rivera made it clear what he treasured most by carrying his 1-year-old son, Kayden, to the dais with him.
The little boy smiled and held his father’s plaque with his tiny hands. The plaque kept him busy while Jose Dominguez, CEO of the American Red Cross on Long Island, presented Rivera with a citation from U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito.
“When I saw my wife holding my son, I started crying, because it reminded me of the mom holding her son,” Rivera said as he accepted the awards. “So to all the kids out there, and to my son, have a good heart and always look out for everybody.”
Rivera now delivers packages for FedEx. Three months ago, he and his wife, Brenda Martinez, moved with Kayden to Rivera’s parents’ home in Levittown, to save money for their future.
“I just want to continue my whole journey with my son and my wife,” Rivera said.