Firefighters Battle Frozen Hydrants, Unplowed Streets In 5-Alarm Blaze

Queens Gazette - December 30, 2010

by Liz Goff

Frozen hydrants buried in snow, unplowed streets and abandoned vehicles endangered lives in Elmhurst on the night of December 27 as firefighters fought the elements to battle a five-alarm blaze in a six-story apartment building.

Fire officials said firefighters arrived at the building at 41-17 Judge St. at 6:27 p.m., carrying equipment on their backs and running hoses hooked up to hydrants located six to eight blocks away.

The blaze, believed to have started in a sixth-floor apartment, spread quickly through the building after strong winds shattered windows in the apartment, an FDNY spokesperson said.

Flames burst from the apartment windows, quickly spreading to a cockloft that carried the fire across the sixth floor, the spokesperson said.

The fire raged to five alarms by 8:07 p.m., with 198 firefighters from 44 units working feverishly to bring it under control.

"It's amazing that no one died here," one angry resident said. "People in the building began knocking on doors and getting people out of their apartments as soon as they smelled the smoke. But the firefighters had a really rough time getting here because the streets aren't plowed."

FDNY officials at the scene said firefighters had problems with frozen hydrants buried in banks of snow near the building.

"Firefighters were forced to carry their gear almost eight blocks to the scene," officials said.

"It was then determined an outside fire at that point, that required the use of power ladders to douse the flames," officials said.

Red Cross workers were at the scene offering temporary shelter for more than 100 people displaced by the blaze.

"This was really stupid," another tenant said. "It's stupid and life threatening."

The blaze was brought under control at 9:24 p.m., the FDNY spokesperson said. Fire marshals are currently at the scene trying to determine the cause of the fire.

The fire occurred just hours after Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a press conference with city commissioners where the mayor told reporters the storm had so far spared New Yorkers from death and serious injury.

"Hey, Mayor Bloomberg, look over here," resident Chris DeCarlo shouted. "Do you think maybe you spoke too soon?"

Four firefighters and four residents were taken to local hospitals for treatment of injuries they suffered in the blaze.