January 26, 2005

UPDATE: FDNY fatalities

Illegal partitions and water pressure problems may have contributed to the deaths of two firefighters on Sunday in the Bronx. Normally a "routine" fire, this blaze instantly flared up, trapping six firefighters on the floor above the fire, according to a New York Times article.

Trapped by a fire that had raced through a warren of makeshift corridors and suddenly roared up at them, the firefighters were pushed to the windows of two back rooms. As the heat scorched the [air] tanks on their backs, six firefighters leaped from the windows of [apartment] Four Ida [4-I], falling one after the other into a snow-covered alley at the rear of the building, effectively five stories below them. ... Two of them died; three were critically injured.

Such a frantic time on the scene of an emergency would normally remain unclear in retrospect as investigations examine how the tradedy unfolded. But not in this case. According to the NYT article, "The firefighters sent desperate calls for help, which were captured on an experimental radio taping system."

The tape recordings made at the Bronx fire were part of a pilot program, in which three of the city's 50 battalion cars were equipped to record all transmissions made inside buildings. Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta announced that the city would immediately expand the program to every battalion.

Those familiar with the tapes reveal that for some reason, the fire engine supplying water to the attack company lost water pressure. That's when things turned bad.

Then a problem developed on the third floor. The engine company there, No. 42, had lost water pressure. The chiefs on the scene instructed the engine company on the fourth floor, No. 75, to swap positions with Engine Company 42. One important question for the investigation, according to a statement issued yesterday by the Fire Department, will be why two hoses drawing water from the same equipment were not able to maintain equal pressure.

The departure of Engine Company 75 from the fourth floor left the remaining firefighters - from Ladder Company 27, and Rescue 3 - without any water. The engine company going up the stairs to replace it, No. 42, was the same one that had reported low pressure.

The fire suddenly burst in a thousand-degree bloom from the third floor to the fourth. Over the radio, a firefighter called out an "urgent" message, signaling a need for immediate help. But the blaze raced across the makeshift halls in Apartment Four Ida and pinned the firefighters in two back rooms. The next message was three words signaling the most dire emergency: "Mayday, mayday, mayday."

Possibly unable to reach the apartment window with access to the fire escape, the firefighters bailed out two other windows.

Fire officials said yesterday that an illegal partition appeared have cut off the path to the fire escape in Apartment 4-I, although it is not clear that the firefighters could have safely made it to the fire escape. Many apartments in the Bronx and northern Manhattan have been renovated into what amount to boarding houses, to accommodate the flood of immigrants who have filled the city's service industries in recent years.

The landlord was not immediately available for comment.

Another NYT article adds further info to the story.

In New York, with its vertical terrain, the department has honed one of the most aggressive interior attacks in use. It includes searching the floors above the fire.

"That's a routine search," Chief Garcia said. "Why? The people in the most danger, besides the ones trapped in the apartment that's on fire, are the people in the apartment above the fire. That's where the next greatest exposure is."

It is an offensive tack. And although the department has mastered its approach over a century, so that fatal fires for firefighters as well as civilians are now lower than ever, it has not come without the occasional deadly cost.

The cause of the loss of water pressure is still unclear, but firefighters from Engines 42 and 46 encountered a frozen hydrant upon arrival.

According to fire officials, the men from the two engine companies found that the closest hydrant was frozen. Instead, they attached their hoses directly to reserves of 500 gallons of water, which is stored on the engine in what is called a booster tank. Other firefighters stretched other lines to the next available hydrant, with the help of a third engine company, No. 75.


At first, the flow was strong. But then the pressure to the house on the third floor dropped, the officials said. Possible causes being investigated yesterday, they said, included freezing water or debris trapped in the hose, or a malfunction of the engine that pumps water from the hydrant.

Another firefighter in the department died later in the day when he was separated from his crew while searching a basement.

Services for the three men have already begun.

Wake and Funeral Services for Lieutenant Curtis W. Meyran


Krauss Funeral Home
1097 Hempstead Turnpike
Franklin Square, NY

Thursday, January 27, 2005
Friday, January 28, 2005
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM


Our Lady of Lourdes
65 Wright Avenue
Malverne, NY

Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 10:00 AM **
** This Time May Change To 11:00 AM

Wake and Funeral Services for Firefighter John G. Bellew


Joseph W. Sorce Funeral Home
728 West Nyack Road
West Nyack, NY

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM


St Margaret’s Of Antioch RC Church
115 West Central Avenue
Pearl River, NY

Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 11:00 AM

Wake and Funeral Services for Firefighter Richard T. Sclafani


Colonial Funeral Home
2819 Hylan Blvd at Tysen’s Lane, SI

Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Thursday, January 27, 2005
2:00 PM - 4:00 PM
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
(Times Tentative)


Our Lady Star of the Sea Church
Hugenot Road and Amboy Road, Staten Island

Friday, January 28, 2005 at 11:00 AM

Posted by JRC at January 26, 2005 07:44 PM | TrackBack