Triple-Fatal NYC Fire: With Whom Does Blame Lie?

CBS 2 - November 19, 2009

by Sean Hennessey

Fast-Moving Blaze Rips Through Brooklyn Apt. Building, Killing Father & 2 Kids; Fire Union Gets On

NEW YORK (CBS) - Could they have been saved? That was the question Wednesday night after a tragic fire in Brooklyn claimed the life of three people, including two toddlers, after some said firefighters were sent to the wrong location.

As investigators focused on the cause of this triple fatality, Ekimi Telfair came home to hear all but one of her next-door neighbors had died in the fast-moving fire.

"I'm just really sad to hear it," Telfair said. "They were pretty quiet. I just seen them come and go and that was it."

As the mother worked, the fire killed a stay-at-home dad, his 2-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. It turns out firefighters were first sent to the wrong address.

"When you're trapped in a burning building, seconds make a difference," said Jim Slevin of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

On Wednesday night the firefighters union suggested the deaths could have been avoided if it weren't for the city's new Unified Call Taking System. The union claims the system sent firefighters to the wrong address.

And that caused "a total delay of 4 minutes and 31 seconds."

"They were sent to the wrong address and this is happening over and over again. It's a daily occurrence with the Fire Department under the 'U Can't Tell' system," Slevin said.

But the union claim may not tell the whole story. The father inside the fire never called 911 because he was trying to put it out himself.

Instead someone from a nearby school called it in.

"It was thick black smoke. It was like we knew something was going on," witness Fantasia Brown said.

Brown said her teacher called for help. But because she saw only the back of the building, she didn't have an exact address. So she gave dispatch the intersection.

Firefighters arrived in three minutes, but needed a pedestrian to help.

"I'm like 'yo fellas, it's around the corner. It's this building around the corner.' And I brought them around here," neighbor Gordon Burks said.

Lost in the finger-pointing is a mother and widow.

"There's a woman left with three people to bury. She needs help, and as a community, we should help," neighbor George Grant said.

Stay with and CBS 2 HD for more on this developing story.