Brooklyn House Fire Kills Teen, Leaves Her Two Sisters in Critical Condition

NY Daily News - December 21, 2013

by Denis Slattery , Joe Stepansky AND Larry Mcshane

By the time three Brooklyn sisters heard the voices screaming for them to flee the flames, it was already too late.

A 16-year-old high school student died and her two older siblings were critically injured Friday when a raging fire trapped the trio inside a third-floor bathroom at their Kensington home, authorities said.

The devastating tragedy, just five days before Christmas, was blamed in part on a lack of working smoke detectors in the home, officials confirmed.

“They would have gotten a much earlier warning,” said Firefighter Thomas Bradley, who heroically carried one of the unconscious women from the smoke-filled home after the 5:30 a.m. blaze. The mother of teen victim Jasmine Guillaume wept in the darkness outside the 293 E. Eighth St. house as her daughters were brought out on stretchers, neighbors said.

Minutes earlier, she shouted desperately for the three women to wake up as the fire climbed toward their bedrooms. Saint Saviour High School student Guillaume was pronounced dead a short time later. Her sisters Karen Jumelle, 24, and Jaima Jumelle, 27, were both in critical condition with smoke inhalation and burns, officials said.

The churchgoing family moved into the neighborhood from Haiti about 30 years ago and became local mainstays. They were members of the congregation at Holy Innocents Catholic Church.

“They’re a quiet family,” said City Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D-Brooklyn). “They were always very involved with the church this time of year. The mother sings in the choir.”

Neighbors recounted a chaotic scene with a harrowing rescue effort after the two-alarm fire began in the rear of the second floor around 5:30 a.m.

The screams of the mom didn’t come soon enough for the women to escape, and the flames spread quickly to the top floor.

The sisters, trapped by thick smoke, searing heat and fire, found temporary refuge in the upstairs bathroom, said Bradley.

Firefighters smashed through a top-floor window and found the unconscious victims, lugging the three downstairs through treacherous conditions. “There was zero visibility the whole time,” said Bradley. Emergency responders performed CPR as they rushed the sisters to separate hospitals, authorities said.

“They started pumping on one woman’s chest the second they got her out of the building,” said neighbor Folashade Butts, 20.

The teen was pronounced dead despite the last-ditch efforts. Hours later, a group of women came to the scene wailing in disbelief.

“No! No! No!” screamed one after draping herself over the hood of a nearby car. The mother and the other resident of the house managed to escape the flames.

The mother “was crying; she was shaking,” said neighbor Mustafa Elrowmeim, 17. “I was hoping no one got hurt. Now I found out someone died. It broke my heart.”