NEW YORK (AP) _ A firefighter reaching into a bathtub filled with water felt what he though was a rag.

``It's a kid!'' Lt. Jim Kelly recalled.

While his colleague ran out with the body, Kelly reached back into the water.

``I can't believe there would be another kid in there,'' he said. ``But there is.''

As Kelly ran out with that child, another lieutenant reached into the tub and found a third body.

Those three children, and a fourth whose body was found crumpled behind the bathroom door, had stopped breathing, but were resuscitated. They were hospitalized in critical condition Thursday.

The fire broke out downstairs in the two-story Queens home Wednesday night. The children's mother and a fifth child were in the basement and got out safely. The children's father, who is a firefighter, was not at home.

``It's very upsetting,'' said a department spokeswoman, Firefighter Cecilia Cox, who did not release the father's name. ``We're all like one big family.''

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

In the dark smoky house filled with flames, firefighters at first couldn't find the way upstairs. Finally Lt. Robert DiSanza located the steps and Lt. Don Leavy tried to open the bathroom door.

``It won't go all the way because one of the kids is behind the door,'' Kelly said.

``He finally takes the kid out into the street and yells that he hears running water, so there might be more kids in there,'' he said.

All three children found submerged in the tub were clothed, an indication that they were not taking a bath but rather jumped in to save themselves.

Kelly said people trapped by fire often seek refuge in bathtubs, incorrectly assuming that they will be protected from flames by water. ``It's not a safe thing to do,'' he added.

The firefighters were honored for their rescue by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Thursday.

Two girls, Miyah Barnes, 9, and Janay, 6, were in critical but stable condition suffering from lung injuries and smoke inhalation, said Dr. Mayer Sagy of Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Two boys, Richie, 7, and Kevin, 3, were at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. The older boy was in extremely critical condition, the younger in critical but stable condition, hospital spokeswoman Elise Goldson said.

Neighbors described the children as happy and friendly.

``They're your little friends, they're your little cuties,'' said neighbor Eileen Sammon. ``To see them coming out lifeless was very frightening.''