911's 'Fatal Typo'

NY Post - November 08, 2009

by GEORGETT ROBERTS, KIRSTEN FLEMING and ANGELA MONTEFINISE

A tragic typo sent Queens firefighters barreling to a wrong address yesterday as three men died at the actual blaze three blocks away.

While trapped residents tried to escape the illegally converted house on 65th Street in Woodside at 2:45 a.m., the closest fire companies were on a "wild goose chase" on 62nd Street. That was because a 911 operator mistakenly entered a "2" in place of a "5," the fire union charged.

Two crucial minutes were lost while rerouting Engine Company 292 and Rescue Company 4 -- both located less than a half-mile from the fire.

They arrived 4 minutes and 55 seconds after the 911 call.

"If we arrived quicker, those people would have a better chance of surviving," said Leroy McGinnis, of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "We believe the time difference could be up to 2½ minutes."

When those companies finally made it to the right address, two people -- including Sd Jahan, 31 -- were already dead, and a third man was clinging to life behind a basement window's protective bars.

He later died at Elmhurst Hospital.

FDNY spokesman Jim Long noted that other units were already at the scene when Engine 292 and Rescue 4 arrived, and said the error "was addressed within a timely manner . . . We still had a very good response time."

The fire apparently began when the boiler exploded in the basement of the wood-frame house, which belongs to Bangladeshi immigrants Subir and Marina Barua.

The structure is supposed to be a two-family house, but was illegally divided into at least four single-occupancy rooms in the basement and two apartments on the second floor, authorities said.

Subir's brother Ranabar Barua said 10 people were living there.

There were no smoke detectors in the basement, and two others had no batteries, the FDNY said.

"I heard a huge bang," said witness Pat Jimenez, 36, who called 911. "I heard screams, so I looked through the window and saw flames coming out of the basement. Blue, red. It was raging."

Other witnesses said Subir was desperately trying to pull people out of the deadly blaze, but the intense flames made it impossible.

Ranabar Barua said Subir, a pharmacist on Long Island, was one of three men taken to New York Hospital's Cornell Burn Center with serious injuries.

Another was Shyamal Datta, 39, who has a wife and child in Bangladesh, his relative said.

Another man was taken to the burn unit, and a woman was treated at the scene.

Meanwhile, a Brooklyn man, Philip Salvadone, 43, was killed when a fire ripped through his Cypress Hills apartment at about 2 p.m.

Additional reporting by Matthew Nestel