Blaze Burns Down Rich Hill Medical Building - August 24, 2011

by Ivan Pereira

A team of firefighters was lucky to escape a Richmond Hill medical office building that went up in flames Monday and covered the neighborhood in thick smoke for hours.

Some 40 FDNY units and 200 members were called to handle the four-alarm blaze at Island Musculoskeletal Care, at 112-12 Jamaica Ave. that broke out at 5:30 p.m.

The crews fought the fire, which gutted the medical office and the several neighboring properties, all evening. Residents of nearby apartment buildings and houses were evacuated in time, but the smoke spread for blocks and inconvenienced the crowds who watched the scene.

Chief Edward Kilduff, the chief of operations for the FDNY, said a contracting group was doing work at the office with hot tools, including a blowtorch, when they noticed the ceiling was on fire. The construction workers tried to put it out themselves but failed and then called 911 according to the chief.

"When we got here, we found fire spreading across the roof space," Kilduff said.

Due to the elevated J train tracks, the FDNY's air crews could not get close to the blaze, so several firefighters went inside and tried to pull the ceilings down.

While they were investigating the office, the ceiling exploded and came down on the firefighters, according to the chief. The members were able to get out without serious injury.

"We eventually got the firefighters out, accounted for everyone and continued with our exterior operation," Kilduff said.

Three firefighters were sent to Jamaica Hospital for treatment of minor injuries and EMS crews treated one civilian at the scene.

Kilduff said the building's age and its older cockloft made the blaze hard to fight. "It is very difficult to penetrate into that ceiling space," he said.

The chief said the situation could have been much worse for his men because of the nature of the ceiling explosion.

"We expected when something like that happens, the roof generally collapses down," he said.

The FDNY said it would continue to investigate the explosion.