Woman, 93, Suffers Fatal Heart Attack after Lit Cigarette Starts Fire in Brooklyn Apartment

NY Daily News - December 23, 2015

by Chauncey Alcorn, Thomas Tracy

A 93-year-old woman died of a heart attack early Tuesday after her lit cigarette sparked a fire that tore through her Brooklyn apartment, officials said.

Firefighters pulled Helen Madden out of her third floor apartment on 79th St. in Bay Ridge after the fire broke out about 1:30 a.m., authorities said.

The elderly woman — described as a “loner” by a relative — was found unconscious on her bathroom floor, officials said.

It’s believed she accidentally set the fire while smoking in bed and was trying to put the blaze out when she collapsed, sources said.

The nonagenarian was rushed to Lutheran Medical Center in cardiac arrest and died at the hospital just before 2:15 a.m., officials said.

“She was pretty much a loner,” Madden’s heartbroken niece Leslie D’Elia said. “She enjoyed movies and reading. She was very independent. She's been in frail health for a while."

Neighbors said Madden was a chain smoker who enjoyed puffing on Vendetta cigarettes.

She had been hospitalized a year ago for a heart-related issue, said J.D. Szalla, who lived in the apartment next door to Madden’s.

“It doesn’t surprise me that it happened,” said Szalla, 43. “Everyone told her to quit.”

Szalla said that he, his girlfriend and their two young daughters were at home sleeping when firefighters banged on their door.

When he opened his door smoke came billowing in from the hallway.

“I’ve been praying since she came back that this wouldn’t affect us,” said Szalla, a former artist and self-proclaimed practicing spirit guide who also did odd jobs for the elderly woman.

“All I wanted when she came out of the hospital was for her to forgive all the people she excommunicated from her life,” he said. “I'm the only one that saw through that hard exterior."

About 60 firefighters put out the blaze within half an hour, authorities said. No other injuries were reported.

There was no battery in Madden’s smoke detector, a source with knowledge of the investigation said.

With Rocco Parascandola