NY Post - December 23, 2015by Amber Sutherland, Daniel Prendergast and Chris Perez
93-year-old woman dead after her cigarette sparks fire A 93-year-old woman who infuriated neighbors by chain smoking in her apartment while also using an oxygen tank died when she fell asleep and set her Brooklyn apartment on fire, neighbors and cops said.
Helen Madden caused the blaze in her Bay Ridge bedroom around 1:30 a.m., according to police sources. She regularly puffed on Vendetta cigars and Maverick cigarettes, neighbors said.
Madden was urged for years to quit — especially by neighbors who were afraid she would explode the oxygen tanks inside her third-floor home.
“Nobody could tell her no,” said JD Szalla, a neighbor who has known Madden since 2009.
“She was a hard-core self-righteous woman,” he explained. “I said, ‘Please don’t smoke.’ Her aide would [also] tell her to stop, but you couldn’t tell her anything. She went out the way she wanted to.”
It took firefighters almost an hour to bring the flames inside Madden’s apartment under control before they found her in cardiac arrest and transported her to Lutheran Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
“I thought she was going to blow up the building,” Szalla said.
“She was really old-school,” Szalla said. “Nobody wanted to deal with her.”
Madden had also become notorious among neighbors for her intrusiveness.
“She was a hawk,” he said. “She would protest about things. She was in people’s faces. I’m one of the only people that empathized with her. I’m the only one that saw through that hard exterior.”
According to Szalla, Madden had been homebound for the last year after she returned from the hospital for a cardiac issue.
He said that he would often help her by taking out the trash, changing light bulbs, fixing her sink and once assembling a table. But not even all that could get Madden to lighten up.
“Even when you were helping her, you weren’t doing it right,” Szalla said. “She was a tough woman. She was alone. She just wasn’t nice to people.”
Additional reporting by Jamie Schram