Could Lives Have Been Saved In B'klyn Fire?

CBS 2 - November 19, 2009

by Magee Hickey

Firefighters Union Blames City's Unified Call Taking System For Delay

NEW YORK (CBS) ― There are serious questions Thursday morning surrounding the deadly Brooklyn fire that claimed the lives of a father and his two children.

Could lives have been saved? Investigators are looking at New York City's controversial new dispatch system.

Fire marshals believe the stay-at home father may have been burning incense in his top floor apartment when the incense toppled over and ignited a mattress. By the time firefighters arrived, 42-year-old Myrtel Jean and his two young sons - 2-year-old Fabrice and 1-year-old Sebastian - had been overcome by the choking smoke.

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 never called 9-1-1 because he was trying to put out the fire himself. Instead, police officials say, someone from a nearby Brooklyn 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.

CBS 2's Sean Hennessey contributed to this report.