Three firefighters were seriously injured while battling a four-alarm blaze at two attached duplex homes on Staten Island on Friday, and 19 others were hurt less severely, officials said.
The firefighters with serious injuries were awake and in stable condition at Staten Island University Hospital on Friday evening, according to officials.
The fire broke out in the early afternoon on a quiet, residential block on Shotwell Avenue, John Hodgens, the Fire Department’s chief of department, said during a news conference at the hospital. Wind gusts added to the volatility, Chief Hodgens added.
“The heavy amount of fire on arrival was something we don’t see every day,” he said.
Emergency responders were called to the fire, in the Arden Heights neighborhood, at around 1:30 p.m., Laura Kavanagh, New York City’s fire commissioner, said at the news conference. Firefighters were at the scene within four minutes, she said.
The responding units found “heavy smoke” on arrival, Commissioner Kavanagh said. Eleven minutes into their efforts, they began to receive reports of a “firefighter down,” she said. By the 18-minute mark, there were signals that a firefighter was trapped.
Two of the firefighters who sustained serious injuries were searching for occupants of the home and became trapped when the windows failed and wind blew inside, stoking the flames, Chief Hodgens said.
“One was able to make their way to a balcony and jump off the second-floor balcony down into the driveway,” the chief said. “And one transmitted a mayday signal.”
Another firefighter became “disoriented” and was hit in the head by what was believed to be falling plaster that knocked off his mask “a little bit,” leading him to inhale what Chief Hodgens called “a good amount” of smoke.
None of the homes’ occupants were injured in the fire. The damage to the buildings was obvious shortly after it was extinguished: windows knocked out, burn marks above what was once a bay window, brown vinyl siding charred.
As firefighters continued their work and neighbors looked on nearby, a woman who identified herself as a resident cried and declined to speak to a reporter.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, Chief Hodgens said, adding that it was believed to have started in the space between small structures, called setbacks, connected to the back of each semi-attached house.
“I cannot emphasize enough that this was a very close call for the F.D.N.Y.,” Commissioner Kavanagh said.