Mom Of Young Boys Killed In Crown Heights Fire Doesn't Know How She'll Go On Without Sons

NY Daily News - November 20, 2009

by Robert Johnson and Jonathan Lemire

The mom of two young boys killed when a mattress fire filled their Brooklyn apartment with choking smoke collapsed in grief Thursday.

The thought of life without her little angels and their dad is unbearable.

"They loved to laugh and play around - they were my life's light," sobbed 26-year-old Rose-Daniel Etienne-Jean.

Her longtime boyfriend, Myrtel Jean, 41, and their sons - Fabrice, 2, and Sebastian, 1 - died after incense ignited the bed in their modest St. Marks Ave. home in Crown Heights.

The two boys were covered in soot and not breathing when firefighters - who were first dispatched to the wrong address - pulled them from their sixth-floor apartment Wednesday.

"My Fabrice, my Fabrice," Etienne-Jean repeated in French when she saw her son's picture.

""I lost everything! What am I now? What am I going to do?

"Why me?" she cried. "Why me?"

As Etienne-Jean made the sad pilgrimage to identify her loved ones' bodies at the morgue, the FDNY defended the new 911 system that the unions say delayed firefighters' response.

"The unions' charges are absolutely not true," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. "The mistakes made at the fire were not due to the system - they were from callers to 911 giving the wrong addresses."

The FDNY released the first two 911 calls reporting the St.Marks Ave. fire, both from teachers at nearby Public School 138.

In both cases, the confused teachers supplied incorrect addresses to the dispatcher.

"I do not know the address," said one caller. "I'm sitting at a window. There's a fire out the window."

When pressed, the teacher said Rogers Ave. and Prospect Place - a mistake repeated by the second caller.

Firefighters arrived a block from the St. Marks Ave. fire - three minutes after the call. It took another three minutes to get to the right address.

FDNY brass have suggested changes to how NYPD operators handle 911 calls, sources said.

Still, the department and the mayor continue to support the new Unified Call Taker system, which lets operators deploy fire companies directly instead of fire dispatchers.

The unions blame the system for scores of bad dispatches and want it scrapped.

"The system has failed," said Al Hagan, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. He suggested a new 711 number for fire emergencies.

It was unclear whether the delay cost the family their lives, investigators said. The mattress fire created toxic fumes that overwhelmed the three victims in minutes, officials said.

Etienne-Jean, a Haitian immigrant and home health attendant, was at work when the blaze ignited at 12:27 p.m.

She learned about the deaths nine hours later when she got home - and fell to the sidewalk in grief.

"They wanted to give these kids a life here, let them live the American Dream and go to college," said Ronald Pierre, the woman's cousin.

"It is a sad, unexpected and tragic time for our family."