Toddler celebrates 2nd birthday with FDNY rescuers

Firefighter Steven Keenan discovered Liam, who was 10 months old at the time, in the arms of his mother

Wes Parnell
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Little Liam Rodriguez was probably too young to remember the devastating Queens fire that killed his mother two years ago and left him near death with burns on over 95% of his tiny body.

But the firefighters who staged a Sesame Street-themed party complete with an Elmo cake for Liam’s third birthday this month wanted to be sure he remembers this.

From left: Firefighters Manuel Costa, Lawrence Young, and Steve Keenan, holding Liam Dominguez Rodriguez during the boy's birthday party.
From left: Firefighters Manuel Costa, Lawrence Young, and Steve Keenan, holding Liam Dominguez Rodriguez during the boy's birthday party. (Photo/Jeff Bachner)

“He doesn’t know what’s going on with him, and it’s great to see him just happy and with so much support and to see him at the party with so many people loving him and supporting him,” said Firefighter Steven Keenan of Engine 316 in East Elmhurst, Queens. “It was great to see that.”

It was Keenan who found Liam wrapped in his dying mother’s arms when an arsonist’s fire raged through their East Elmhurst home on July 10, 2019. Elizabeth Rodriguez, 35, died from her injuries along with her daughter Emma, 6, and her father, Claudio, 76.

But her strong son, Liam, 10 months old at the time, managed to survive, but not without a number of ongoing challenges that included an induced coma, a series of surgeries and amputations of his left foot, the toes on his right foot and a finger on his left hand.

Cops said the fire was set by an irate house guest, who perished in the blaze. The trouble-making boarder — a down-on-his-luck family friend from the Dominican Republic — was asked to leave, but instead used gasoline to set the place on fire in a twisted display of fiery payback.

Since that awful day, Liam has made miraculous progress. Relatives adopted the little boy, trying to make life as normal as possible despite continued skin grafts and plastic surgery.

“In the grand scheme of things he’s doing great,” said Denise Moreno, a relative and Liam’s godmother.

“Obviously we had a lot of physical work to do but he’s come such a long way. That night the doctors said they had less than a 1% chance of surviving. Both him and Elizabeth had burns to over 95% of their body. I don’t think anybody had seen something to this level.”

Moreno made the decision to send Liam to a special burn unit at Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas.

“He’s going to have to go through a lot more therapy but I think eventually he will catch up to be the most normal child as you can possibly get him to be,” Moreno said. “He will talk. He’s already having baby talk which is great, but there is a lot more surgery down the road, physical therapy, surgery for prosthetic legs. But that’s all doable.”

Liam’s aunt, Rafelina Moreno, whose sister died in the blaze, is now taking care of Liam in the house where the fire took place. Her background as a nurse in the Dominican Republic makes her the boy’s perfect caregiver.

“It’s been really tough, especially when Liam was in Texas because we had to be here,” the aunt said. “We had to deal with the funerals, the investigation, the medical examiner, with the autopsy reports.”

Weeks after the fire, Liam’s heart stopped, and doctors asked Rafelina if she wanted them to do CPR, which was risky because her nephew was so fragile. She gave them the go-ahead.

“I told them, do it softly and gently,” she said. “If his time comes it will come, but I don’t want to disconnect him from the ventilator.”

Liam soldiered through the CPR, and everything else that has come his way. If there was anybody who deserved a party, a chance to laugh and eat a lot of cake, it was Liam — and the community of family and firefighters that helped pull him through.

“It was a joyous occasion to see him. He has the mind of a 3-year-old. He loves Sesame Street, loves to live,” Keenan said of the Aug. 21 party. “The pictures at the beginning were very difficult to look at seeing how much this child would have to overcome in life, but with every update it was great to see he was eating more on his own, breathing on his own, it was great to see his growth.”


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