Fifteen Injured, Including Five Cops in Fast-Moving Queens Apartment Fire

NY Daily News - January 13, 2018


Seventeen people — including nine cops — were injured by a smoky, fast-moving fire that tore through a Queens apartment building Friday, officials.

Residents of the 13-story Rockaway Beach high-rise believe hoarding is to blame for the 11:20 a.m. blaze.

“We saw flames coming out of the window, then we ran down to see,” said Santa Caruso, 64, who lives in the next building. “The guy (in that apartment), he's a hoarder, he hoards a bunch of stuff. You can't even walk in there.”

“(Firefighters) couldn't even open the door, that's how bad it was,” he added.

Eight police officers and their sergeant raced into the high-rise on Shorefront Parkway near Beach 87th St. in Rockaway Beach after the fire erupted on the 11th floor.

The cops knocked on doors and evacuated people from the 13-story building before they ended up trapped on the ninth floor.

“There was a lot of heavy smoke so they couldn’t find their way out,” an NYPD source said. “After a short time, they managed to find a stairwell and get out.”

Eight of the cops were hospitalized with smoke inhalation. A ninth cop suffered a serious injury, officials said.

As the fire raged on, smoke began filling up the hallways of the remaining floors.

Paulie Pontrelli, 50, was finishing up his laundry when he was alerted to the fire.

“We go in the elevator and we got that smell of burning,” he said. “Then all the firemen were screaming, telling us we need to evacuate the building. I ran up the stairwell and grabbed my parents and got out of there.”

Five civilians were also hurt, with one listed in critical condition, according to an FDNY spokesman at the scene.

Three of the tenants suffered minor injuries. A fourth tenant remained in serious condition Friday, the spokesman said.

Three firefighters were also hospitalized, two suffering serious injuries.

The injured were taken to Jamaica Hospital, St. John’s Hospital and Nassau University Medical Center. Two were treated at the scene.

Twenty FDNY units and 78 firefighters were called in to fight the fire, which was put out within an hour.

Evacuated tenants raced into Caruso’s neighboring building to get out of the rain, filling up the lobby, he said.

"I've never seen so many fire trucks, (it was) all of Shore Parkway,” he said. “My friend lives up (on the 11th floor). They broke down her door and they went through and destroyed the whole apartment trying to put the fire out."

The cause of the blaze was under investigation — although tenants were quick to blame the “hoarder” tenant. It was not immediately disclosed if the tenant was among the injured.

“Apparently a lamp got knocked over and a hot bulb got ignited, then all the crap he keeps burned,” said Pontrelli, who has lived in the building for 20 years. “If you're a hoarder it should be illegal for you to hoard in a multi-family building. If you're in your own home, more power to you. But hoarding is dangerous, it shouldn't be allowed.”

“That's what ignites fires,” she added. “You might as well have gasoline in there.”