Bronx Boat Business Owner, 80, Critical After Firefighters Pull Him From Choking Smoke, Flames

NY Daily News - December 14, 2009

by Maria Clark, Barry Paddock and Jonathan Lemire

Battling surging flames and choking smoke, firefighters Sunday rescued the 80-year-old owner of a Bronx fishing boat business who was trapped as fire tore through his apartment, officials and witnesses said.

Onnig (John) Maghakian was sprawled on the living room floor of the Bedford Park apartment he had called home for 50 years when firefighters burst into the burning flat at dawn, officials said.

"I crawled in the front door and found him laying on the floor," said Firefighter Ronnie Littlejohn, 44, who was initially unable to see anyone through the thick smoke.

"He made a moaning noise," Littlejohn said. "I took a light and shined it right on his face."

As the fire raged around him, Littlejohn cleared a path to the front door and began to pull Maghakian to safety.

"I grabbed him from underneath his arms and dragged him out," said Littlejohn, a 10-year FDNY veteran normally assigned to Engine 48 but detailed to Ladder 56 yesterday.

A waiting ambulance rushed Maghakian to Jacobi Medical Center, where he is listed in critical condition, officials said. He has second- and third-degree burns over more than 30% of his body, officials said.

"It's too soon to tell how bad this might be," said his son Mark Maghakian, 49. "Doctors told me we'll have to wait for him to wake up to see if he suffered brain damage. He inhaled a high level of carbon monoxide."

Onnig Maghakian emigrated from Armenia and fought in the Korean War, his son said.

"He's a beautiful person," said neighbor Minerva Pacheco, who saw firefighters carry Maghakian out of the building. "He wasn't conscious. He was still breathing - but it was hard breathing."

Maghakian leaves his apartment and heads to City Island most mornings at 5 a.m. to go fishing. But he was still home when the blaze ignited at 5:30a.m., neighbors said.

"Someone across the street saw the smoke coming out the windows," said superintendent Edwin Pacheco. "I ran up and banged on the door; it was really hot when I touched it."

Investigators said it was not immediately clear what sparked the blaze, but fire marshals were eying a discarded cigarette as a possible cause, according to an FDNY source.

The fire did not spread to other apartments in the Morris Ave. building, officials said.

The elder Maghakian lived alone for the past five years after his wife died, his son said. Neighbors said his only daily companion is his cat, Fifi, who was found alive elsewhere in the burning building.

"My dad is very attached to the cat," said Mark Maghakian, who lives in Westchester County and often spends Sundays with his father watching football. "Hopefully, my father pulls through."