Confirm '911' Error In Woodside Deathtrap Fire

Queens Gazette - November 12, 2009

by LIZ GOFF

A tragic mistake by a 911 operator on Saturday morning sent Queens firefighters searching for a fatal blaze in the basement of a Woodside home that resulted in the deaths of three victims. Fire officials confirmed that firefighters from Engine Co. 292 and Rescue 4, the closest companies, were sent "on a wild goose chase" to 62nd Street by a 911 operator who was given the right address, but entered the wrong street number on her computer. The dispatcher mistakenly sent units to 42-40 62nd Street, instead of the same house number on 65th Street.

Officials said the error cost firefighters an additional two minutes in response time. The first call was received by 911 at 2:45 a.m. Firefighters arrived at the scene in just under five minutes. "Considering the circumstances, that was a very good response time," FDNY officials said.

The three men who died in the raging fire were trapped by illegal renovations that blocked their escape from the house on 65th Street.

Officials said two of the three victims, Sd Jahan, 31, and another man were already dead when firefighters arrived at the two-story deathtrap. A third man was clinging to life, hanging on behind bars installed on the basement windows. The badly burned man died later at Elmhurst Hospital Center.

A fourth, badly burned man was found by firefighters lying beneath a basement window where he apparently tried to escape the flames and smoke, fire officials said.

Investigators said the blaze apparently began in the basement when the boiler exploded. A Department of Buildings (DOB) Web site shows the structure, owned by Subir and Marina Barua, is listed as a two-family house. The building had been illegally converted into seven single-occupancy rooms in the basement and two apartments on the second floor, authorities said.

FDNY sources said at least 10 people were living at the home, where there were no smoke detectors in the basement. Two smoke detectors installed on the first and second floors had no batteries, the sources said.

Neighbors said they were shaken from sleep by a huge bang.

"I looked out the window and immediately called 911," neighbor Pat Jiminez said. "Flames were raging from the basement. I smelled smoke and people were screaming. It was horrible."

Firefighters pulled four more people from the house, three of whom suffered severe burns and smoke inhalation. A woman was treated at the scene while three men, including Subir Barua, the house owner, were rushed to the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Burn Center, FDNY officials said. Barua remains in critical condition on a respirator at the burn center.

Barua, 48, was cited by the Department of Buildings in 1990 and 2004 for illegal occupancy, failure to provide a basement exit, conducting renovations without a permit and other alleged violations, a DOB Web site shows. The complaints were cleared after DOB inspectors determined they were unfounded.

FDNY sources said investigators are trying to determine how the 911 operator mixed up the address. "It seems like we have a case of human error here," the sources said.