Legislature awards Duncan for saving life
Golden Wok owner's life saved during fire
MILLERTON — It isn’t often that one can say they know a real-live hero. You know the type. The kind of person who would run into a burning building to save someone’s life. In this case, that is exactly what Millerton resident Frank Duncan tried to do without a moment’s hesitation on a chilly November morning this past fall.
That is why the Dutchess County Legislature presented him with an award on Tuesday, Jan. 18, for his bravery, and for saving the life of Millerton resident Amy Yang when her house burned down late last year.
Most of Millerton remembers that fateful autumn morning on Nov. 6, 2021, an early Saturday, not quite 8 a.m. Frank was driving south on Route 22 as part of his routine work schedule for Northwest Lawn & Landscaping Maintenance, the business he and his wife, Amiee, have owned since 1993 with an office in Millerton and a shop in Wassaic.
The Duncans are a well-known and well-loved 40-something couple with long ties to the Harlem Valley community.
One of the company’s caretaking responsibilities includes digging graves.
Early on that chilly morning, as luck would have it, Frank said, “I had to go out because I was digging a grave at the cemetery that morning… I was going south on Route 22.”
Although he had no firefighting experience, Frank said he sensed something was wrong when he saw the home belonging to Golden Wok restaurant owner Amy Yang.
“The smoke was just becoming visible over the roof,” described Frank. “It appeared to be discolored standard smoke from the chimney, something of that nature, and I drove up when I saw from the side of the house that it wasn’t normal.”
He said he feared a fire and immediately dialed 9-1-1.
“Obviously at 7:45 in the morning, I don’t know if people are inside, so I’m assuming people are inside sleeping and I did my best to wake people up,” said Frank. “The smoke and flames started very rapidly from there. I tried to get entrance into the house.”
He did so by grabbing some 2-by-4 pieces of lumber that were piled up on the deck, which later just became more kindling, fueling the flames.
Frank said he tried frantically to get inside, running back and forth, to no avail. The front door was locked and “all the windows were totally blacked out.”
Then, he said, he “heard a very rhythmic tap, it was very faint, but rhythmic. I went around the side of the house and heard it better, and realized somebody was stuck inside. I had no way of gaining access.”
Thinking quickly, Frank grabbed a larger 16-foot 2-by-8 piece of lumber and said he was able to “swing it sideways” onto the deck.
“I was able to break the window on the frame,” he said. “At that point, Amy became visible to see, barely through the smoke, and I was able to get her to come down; she slid down the piece of lumber.”
Just this week, Yang shared publicly for one of the very first times how grateful she is for Frank saving her life.
"He’s very nice, he’s very gentle, a gentleman," she said. "I think so much of him, he’s so caring. When I was in [an] emergency, he was there too. In my heart I thank him so much.”
Frank said he believes another man who works at the Millerton Post Office also came to aid in the rescue efforts.
Frank said he asked Mrs. Yang, whom he had just rescued, if there was anyone else in the two-story home. She said she thought her daughter, Jenny, was also home.
That was when a truck driver arrived with a ladder he found nearby; they tried to climb in a bedroom window. Frank said the house was just too far gone to get inside.
“At that point, the smoke and flames were coming up the ladder, I couldn’t get access,” he said. “It was very hot and very smoky, but I thought we did as much as we could… I never entered the house, we never gained access — it was too involved.”
Frank said he was amazed at how the house became fully engulfed within a matter of minutes.
“It literally progressed from, you could see there was a fire to it was fully involved in 6 or 7 minutes,” he said. “From the time I called it in to the time the fire chief arrived 6 or 7 minutes later, it went from basically smoke to fully involved.”
More than 50 volunteer firefighters from companies from around the region responded to the house fire on South Elm Avenue (Route 22), with the Millerton Fire Company taking the lead under the direction of Chief Jason Watson.
It turned out that Yang’s daughter Jenny Yang, 24, was at home, but no one could get to her in time, nor could they rescue another resident inside, Wangdi Tamang, 30. Sadly both perished in the house fire.
The Yang home was totally destroyed in the blaze and became an immediate safety hazard; it was demolished later that day.
Frank returned to the scene later in the day with his landscaping company to help assist the Millerton Fire Company and the county’s fire investigation team with clean up and recovery. He said it wasn’t easy.
“Yes, it was difficult, to be honest,” he said. “I think, and I even said to the fire company, not just the North East Fire District, but to every company and person involved, I think they did just an amazing job. They literally had the fire put out in minutes. The beauty about it was the fact that they provided a lot of closure; they did a remarkable job.”
The members of the Dutchess County Legislature think Frank also did a remarkable job, and on Tuesday evening, Jan. 18, they honored him with an award for his bravery.
Chair of the Legislature Gregg Pulver (R-19) signed the certificate honoring Frank, which noted his “heroic actions resulted in the saving of a life,” and called him an “inspiration.”
Pulver later told this newspaper how he feels about those who place other people’s safety above their own. He said Millerton is lucky to have such a citizen live in its midst.
“Frank exemplifies what a good neighbor truly is,” said Pulver. “His quick-thinking and courage aided Amy in her time of need. Without him, a terrible situation would have been even worse. We owe a debt of gratitude to Frank. I have a lot of faith in our community; together we are strong.”
Amiee said she is incredibly proud of her husband, and thankful he was able to get out of the fire safely himself.
“Frank is a very humble person, he’s not going talk about it… He’s a man of few words,” she said, noting it was difficult just to get him to attend the ceremony in Poughkeepsie. “I said, no, you’re going! Although, I think it was probably pretty traumatic for him, too.
“I had people tell me it was a miracle he didn’t catch on fire because he was in the flames… I think he was just standing there, just in a daze, just shocked,” added his amazed wife. “He tried to keep fighting the fire. He did tell me, ‘The front door was locked, I tried to get in and kept ramming it, pushing it, kicking it.’ He told me, ‘Am, if I got that front door open I never would have gotten out alive.’”
Amiee said the whole incident for her was “Scary. I think it’s one of those ‘Come to Jesus' moments. It puts things into perspective for you, and realigns your priorities in life. What in the hell would I ever do if something happened to him? I don’t know. I would be lost.”
The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Dutchess County Fire Investigation Team.