Brooklyn Man, Two Toddlers Killed In Fire: Incense To Blame As FDNY Is Delayed At Wrong Address

NY Daily News - November 19, 2009

by Kerry Burke, Robert Johnson and Jonathan Lemire

A father and his two boys died Wednesday in a fire - apparently sparked by burning incense - that tore through their Brooklyn apartment.

Firefighters, who were briefly dispatched to the wrong address, pulled the lifeless and soot-covered victims from the inferno at 654 St. Marks Ave. but not in time.

Despite feverish efforts by paramedics to revive Myrtel Jean, 42, and his sons - Fabrice, 2, and Sebastian, 1 - on the sidewalk, they perished a short time later in Kings County Hospital.

"If I hadn't gone to work, I would have been awake and I could have saved them all," said Bernardo Jean in front of the sixth-floor flat where he lived with his brother and nephews.

Bernardo said he came home from his construction job to find the door to the apartment sealed by the FDNY.

"My brother was a good man, a family man, and my nephews were my love. Now they're dead. Oh my God, they're dead," he wailed, then turned to the apartment door and kicked it open in an outburst of grief and anger.

Horrified residents in the Crown Heights neighborhood wept and prayed as paramedics tried to revive the victims.

Shaken neighbor Chaquama Carr, 34, said, "When they brought the first child out, the child was limp - it looked like a rag."

Fire marshals believe the father was burning incense in the home - which did not have a working smoke alarm - when it toppled over and ignited a mattress, FDNY sources said.

The father tried to put the flames out with water in kitchen pots, the sources said.

As the heat blew out the windows, the three were overcome by the choking smoke filling the apartment.

FDNY officials said the first two 911 calls to report the fire were made at 12:27 p.m. from teachers at nearby Public School 138.

The callers said smoke was coming from a "white building" on the corner of Rogers Ave. and Prospect Place - a structure directly behind the St. Marks Ave. building actually on fire.

Firefighters briefly pulled up to the corner of Prospect Place before being directed to the correct St. Marks Ave. building around the block, witnesses said.

Three minutes and nine seconds elapsed from the initial 911 call to the firefighters' arrival at the Prospect Place intersection - an excellent response time, FDNY officials said. It then took the firefighters another minute or so to reach the accurate address, sources said.

"They did not respond to a wrong address. They responded to the location provided by both calls to 911," said FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon.

The firefighters union claimed the delay was longer and the mistake was the fault of the city's controversial new 911 dispatching system, known as Unified Call Taker.

The system lets 911 operators deploy fire companies directly.

"The new dispatch system does not work," said Steve Cassidy, head of Uniformed Firefighters Association, who said the system also dispatched Brooklyn firefighters to an incorrect address on an earlier fire Wednesday.