Fire Leaves Oakwood Family Homeless

SI Advance - April 24, 2011

by Jillian Taratunio

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A devastating fire in a one-story Oakwood house has left a woman in critical condition and a family of three without a home.

The house, located at 378 Isabella Ave., burst into flames at approximately 3 a.m. on Friday morning. Residents of the home -- Bill French, Rosemary French, and their 11-year-old daughter, Kimberly French -- scrambled to evacuate the home as the fire quickly spread through the house.

Fire Department officials are investigating the cause of the fire.

A neighbor, Lauri Benitto, said she had her bedroom window open and heard someone screaming for help. She called 911 immediately, but was uncertain of what was happening at that point.

Ms. Benitto rushed outside with her husband, and they saw flames shooting out of the windows.

"The house was completely engulfed in flames. The flames were shooting out of the windows," Ms. Benitto said. "Mrs. French, who is not mobile, was on the stoop. She and her husband were completely covered in soot."

Ms. Benitto and a neighbor carried Mrs. French away from the house. According to Ms. Benitto, Mrs. French had suffered from a stroke, and has multiple sclerosis and lupus.

"She has been in and out of the hospital for the past two years. She's a very sick woman, and her husband has 24-hour care for her. When my neighbor and I picked her up, we saw that her skin was coming off as we carried her. She had been very badly burned," she said.

Ms. Benitto's husband, Bill French and a neighbor attempted to put out the fire with their garden hoses while they awaited the arrival of the Fire Department.

Twelve units and 60 firefighters responded to the fire, according to Steve Ritea, a spokesman for the New York Fire Department. The FDNY received the call at 3:07 a.m., and had the fire under control at 3:50 a.m.

When the firefighters arrived, Ms. Benitto said they soon realized the two fire hydrants closest to the house were not working. They had to go around the block to Oak Avenue for a working hydrant, she said.

Ritea did not have any information about the out-of-service fire hydrants.

As the firefighters fought the blaze, Bill and Rosemary French were taken to Staten Island University Hospital, Ocean Breeze, on gurneys.

Bill French and Kimberly French are listed in stable condition, while Rosemary French is in critical, but stable condition in the hospital's Regional Burn Center, according to a spokesman for the hospital.

Red Cross responders were at the scene of the fire shortly after firefighters arrived, according to Michael Devulpillieres, a spokesman for the Red Cross.

Devulpillieres said the Red Cross provides emergency housing, referrals for longer term assistance, emotional support and emergency funds for basic necessities.

"The real sadness is that this man, who cares for this sick woman, has 24-hour aid for her and a young daughter, now has to deal with this," Ms. Benitto said.

"He has it so hard, and now he has no house."