Fatal Fires Hitting Hard in SE Queens

Queens Chronicle - February 01, 2019

by Michael Gannon, Editor

Yvonne Reddick, the district manager of Community Board 12, remembers the days when Southeast Queens, particularly her district, seemed to have more fire deaths than anywhere in the city.

“I’m afraid those days are coming back,” she said.

Fires have killed five residents of Southeast Queens between the ages of 16 and 84 since Dec. 23. Even more have been driven from their homes. City and social service agencies were invited Tuesday to the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center in St. Albans, along with Deputy Assistant Chief Edward Baggott, the FDNY’s borough commander for Queens, to inform and reassure residents.

Baggott told the group of more than 40 residents, including Reddick, there is no pattern or single cause. for the deadly spike.

“These happen in ebbs and flows,” Baggott said. “In the 1970s and ’80s New York City would have more than 300 [fire] deaths per year. Then in 2016 we had only 48. The last two years it’s crept up.”

Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), who sponsored the meeting with Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica), solemnly read the names of 10 people who have died in his district since October 2014. They included Lamonies Smith, 16, back in December and Ruth Andrade, 84, earlier this month; as well as five people between the ages of 2 and 20 killed in a single blaze in April 2017 on 208th Street; and brothers John and Andrew Kavanagh, ages 11 and 6, who perished together in 2014. “Ten too many,” he said.

Baggott said in far too many cases, smoke detectors could have averted tragedies had they been installed and in working order.

“A smoke detector won’t save your home, but you’ll get out,” he said. “We can replace your house. If you and your family can get out without any injuries we call that a win.” Baggott said a lot of houses in Queens are old, wood-frame structures.

“They’re 100 years old and they weren’t wired 100 years ago for the electrical equipment we have today,” he said. Adams added that the area, like much of Queens, is riddled with conversions, many illegal, as building owners create apartment spaces where they don’t necessarily belong.

Baggott and Anthony Iuliano of the city’s Department of Buildings cautioned against everything from illegal conversions to “99-cent store” extension cords, the latter of which have not necessarily been tested by groups such as Underwriters Laboratories and do not carry the famed UL logo.

“I would not live in a basement, cellar or attic space — even if there was a second way out — and I wouldn’t recommend that to anybody,” Baggott said. Iuliano said homeowners should hire reputable, licensed contractors for repairs and upgrades rather than doing projects on the cheap.

“Use licensed electricians,” he said. “Use licensed master plumbers, especially for gas line work.”

Members of the FDNY and Red Cross were on hand to help people who may be able to get free smoke detectors installed. Adams and Miller worried that residents in attendance are not the ones who need the message, asking them to spread the word to neighbors and at churches and civic meetings.

“You are not our audience,” Adams said. “But we need you to be liaisons to our audience.”