Firefighter, Elderly Man Plunge Two Stories During Suspicious, Early-Morning Bronx Inferno

NY Daily News - October 22, 2010

by Sarah Armaghan and Jonathan Lemire

The heat from a suspicious Bronx inferno early Thursday caused a stairwell to buckle and collapse - sending a firefighter and the man he was trying to save plunging two stories.

The firefighter and elderly man crashed hard onto the building's concrete lobby, with flaming debris landing on top of them.

But, remarkably, both only suffered minor injuries from the terrifying fall.

"It's a miracle [the firefighter] fell two flights, with all the heavy stuff they wear, plus someone falling on top of you," said FDNY Division 7 Deputy Chief Kevin Scanlon, "and you come out with minor injuries.

"He's pretty lucky," said Scanlon.

The firefighter, who broke a wrist in the fall, was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital in stable condition.

The other victim, a homeless man neighbors knew just as "Pop," was taken to Bronx Lebanon Hospital in critical condition due to burns he suffered in the blaze, which investigators believe was intentionally set.

Pop, an elderly man often spotted in the Morris Heights neighborhood, was sleeping on a discarded couch left in the third-floor hallway of the Sedgwick Ave. building, residents said.

FDNY investigators believe someone set the couch ablaze at while Pop was sleeping on it at 4 a.m.

"I saw the old man out here, he was all burnt up," said resident Charlene Brown, 24. "He looked terrible. I can't believe someone did this, it's so inhumane."

The flames ignited the paint in the hallway, sending the flames racing up the stairs and spreading the blaze throughout several floors, Scanlon said.

"It ignited the paint [and] it super-heated the marble treads in the stairwell," said Scanlon. "The [victims] fell through the landing."

Firefighters quickly dug Pop and the injured firefighter out from the debris and raced them to waiting ambulances.

No one else was injured in the blaze, but several residents said the building's smoke alarms failed to go off - and that they barely escaped with their lives.

"We were sleeping but the dog started barking like really loud and she wouldn't stop barking until I can down to see," said Brandon Curley, 17, praising his 2-year-old pit bull and Jack Russell mix, Munchie. "We had to climb down the fire escape and if it weren't for her, I don't know how we would have gotten out."

"But she's still up there with her three new puppies," said Curley, staring at the charred building. "They're only two weeks old. They're too young to survive all that smoke."

The cause of the fire remains under investigations, FDNY officials said.

The American Red Cross is assisting many of the families forced out of their homes because of the fires. It said 74 people asked for help after the Sedgwick Ave. fire. Another 16 people were receiving help after the Courtlandt Ave. blaze.