Source: Smokers Tried to Put Out Fatal Fire Before Calling FDNY

SILive - February 17, 2017

by Maura Grunlund

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Attempts by smokers to put out the fatal residential fire in Port Richmond delayed the response by the FDNY, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

The first fatal fire of 2017 on Staten Island claimed the life of John Russell, 69, and critically injured his twin brother, Joseph, inside 1028 Post Ave. on Feb. 9.

The three-alarm blaze during a snow storm wounded a total of 15 people, including the Russell brothers.

The accidental fire sparked by cigarettes that were carelessly discarded by occupants on the first floor had already burned through much of the house by the time firefighters arrived on the scene, the source said.

The smokers didn't snuff out their cigarettes and then didn't immediately report the blaze, allowing the fire to spread as their attempts to extinguish the flames failed, the source said.

The people in the house likely were warned by at least one smoke alarm.

Smoke alarms were present on both the first and second floors. The detector on the second floor definitely was working, but it could not be determined if the one on the first floor was functional, an FDNY spokesman said.

A week after the fire, Joseph Russell remains in critical condition in the Burn Unit at Staten Island University Hospital in Ocean Breeze, according to a spokeswoman for the medical facility.

The two-story frame house that is topped by an attic remains uninhabitable. City Buildings Department records indicate that a 30-day full-vacate order was issued on Feb. 10 "due to fire throughout" the structure.

The fire was called in at 7 a.m. and firefighters arrived on scene in less than three minutes. Within seconds, the personnel on scene transmitted a 10-75 confirming that there was indeed a fire and then issued a second alarm at 7:03 a.m., an FDNY spokesman said.

A video obtained by the Advance showed the house engulfed in flames when the first FDNY unit arrived at the scene.

In the swirling snow and high winds, firefighters struggled to quash the blaze that reached the level of a third alarm with a response of about 33 units and 138 firefighters.

The fire was brought under control after near two hours, at 8:59 a.m., an FDNY spokesman said.

Public records indicated that both men lived in the home where a source told the Advance that John Russell was burned beyond recognition.

Police identified some of the injured as an 11-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl, a 26-year-old man and a 43-year-old man. They were treated for smoke inhalation and minor scrapes and bruises at a hospital, according to police.