Fatal Fire Error: Burning Mattress Trapped Dad, Kids

NY Post - March 30, 2011

by JOHN DOYLE and COLIN WEATHERBY

A Brooklyn dad and his two daughters were trapped in a horrific inferno after someone dragged a burning mattress out of the family's apartment instead of calling 911 -- blocking a stairway and making it impossible for them to escape, officials said yesterday.

Jeff Larmond, 62, his daughters Dzhane, 14, and Ja'mayah, 3, were killed in the Bushwick fire, which broke out at around 5:30 p.m. Monday.

The fire was started by Larmond's 5-year-old son, who was playing with a lighter in their Putnam Avenue apartment and accidentally set the bed aflame, Fire Department sources said. The boy survived the blaze.

"They made an attempt to remove the mattress from the occupancy and that complicated the problem," said one fire official. "They dragged the mattress down to the stairwell on the second floor and anyone above that became trapped."

Instead of fleeing, closing the door and immediately dialing 911, fire officials said, an adult in Larmond's fourth-floor apartment tried to put out the fire. When that didn't work he made the fateful decision to drag the mattress through a hallway and down the stairs, spreading flames and blocking a critical escape route.

It took nearly 60 firefighters more than an hour to get the blaze under control.

Friends said Theresa Wilson, the grieving mother and widow, and her six surviving children were staying with relatives in the area. Wilson was not home when the fire broke out.

"You'd see these little girls all the time," said Arelas Cruz, a neighbor from across the street. "You never think they're going to be gone tomorrow."

Wilson yesterday returned to the burned-out building to recover an urn containing the ashes of her daughter Verrita, who died from leukemia five years ago at age 15.

Cruz said an off-duty police officer helped rescue survivors from the building, including Wilson's brother, Eddie Rosa, 47, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Rosa was taken to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in critical condition.