NYC Officials Launch Fire Safety Effort

Brooklyn fire that killed seven children causes redoubling of public education efforts
AARON SHORT and KATIE SHEEHY, The New York Post Published Wednesday, March 25, 2015

City officials have launched an all-out fire-safety push after seven Orthodox Jewish siblings died in a Brooklyn house blaze over the weekend.

"It is an unspeakable tragedy, and there has got to be something that we take from it,'' Mayor de Blasio said Monday.

"Today . . . there is a meeting with Jewish community leaders that was previously planned in anticipation of Passover," he said in Boston, where he was at the US Conference of Mayors.

Hot Plates and Jewish Sabbath Become Focus of Brooklyn Tragedy

"Certainly, at that occasion, [Fire] Commissioner [Daniel] Nigro is talking about some of the key safety actions that people have to take, the most important being that everyone needs smoke alarms."

"We are going to be redoubling our public-education efforts around smoke alarms, but we'll look at other lessons from this tragedy and find ways to work closely with the community,'' he said.

The children, ages 5 to 16, were killed when an apparently malfunctioning hot plate caught fire at their Midwood home just after midnight Saturday.

Observant families often keep such plates on overnight during the Sabbath to keep food warm.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams pushed for the construction of a burn unit in the borough.

"Brooklyn . . . home to the fourth-largest population in the United States, currently has no such facility,'' Adams said.

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FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro addresses a news conference at the firehouse of Engine Company 21, in New York, Monday, March 23, 2015. He discussed the the deaths of seven siblings in a house fire after a hot plate left on for the Sabbath is believed to have caused the blaze. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

New York City Marks 25th Anniversary of Tragic Bronx Social Club Fire

87 people killed in the Bronx’s Happy Land Social Club blaze
In this March 25, 1990, file photo, bodies of victims of an arson fire at the Happy Land social club lie covered on the sidewalk outside the club where 87 people perished, in the Bronx borough of New York. March 25, 2015, marks the quarter-century anniversary of what was then the biggest mass murder in modern U.S. history. (AP Photo/Charles Arrigo, File)
Published Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — Twenty-five years ago, what was then the biggest mass murder in U.S. history turned a New York City dance club into a smoky, flame-filled inferno that left dozens of people dead, some with drinks still clutched in their hands.

That night, a Cuban refugee named Julio Gonzalez tried to win back the woman who had spurned him.

Gonzalez entered the Happy Land social club in the Bronx, which was humming with mostly immigrants partying and dancing. His former live-in girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, was checking coats and they had a violent argument. Gonzalez was thrown out.

In a rage, he returned just after 3 a.m., splashing gasoline on Happy Land's only exit and lighting two matches. Then he pulled down the metal front gate.

Within minutes, 87 people were dead.

That tragedy in March 1990 will be commemorated on Wednesday evening when a Roman Catholic Mass is held, followed by a procession from the church to a granite memorial near the club, where a candlelight vigil will take place.

The fire was the worst in New York City since 146 women died in a blaze at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in what is today's Greenwich Village. They were killed exactly 79 years earlier on March 25, 1911.

That spring night in 1990, people were smothered by black smoke or fatally burned. It happened so quickly that some appeared like frozen figures from Pompeii.

NIST: Analysis of the Happy Land Social Club Fire with Hazard I

A few still had drinks in their hands. Some had torn off their party clothes, engulfed by flames. Others died hugging or holding hands. Bodies were piled up on Happy Land's dance floor in the darkness, their faces covered with soot.

"I woke up and smelled smoke," said Jeff Warley, who lived three blocks away. He walked to the site of the blaze, "and there were still bodies there, on the street" — wrapped in white and awaiting transport.

Feliciano survived, as did only a handful of others. Among them was the DJ, Ruben Valladares, who plunged into flames, staggering out with burns over 50 percent of his body.

Those who were trapped included Pablo Blanco's uncle, Mario Martinez, who left behind a wife and baby.

"He was my favorite uncle, he used to show me how to cook, he used to take me to different family events," said Blanco, standing this week at the edge of Southern Boulevard in the West Farms neighborhood near the onetime club, now a hair salon.

Even 25 years is not enough to erase the memories of horror vivid in the minds of survivors and those who never again saw their loved ones. One woman lost a half dozen family members, Blanco said.

"My friend Frank can't even come here, the memories just come up to him — of friends and family he's lost," he said.

In 1990, Happy Land drew a noisy, happy crowd of mostly young people. The club had been ordered closed for fire hazards — no sprinklers or emergency exits — but continued to operate illegally.

About two-thirds of the victims were part of a Bronx community of so-called Garifunas — Hondurans descended from proud black natives of the Caribbean exiled by British colonizers more than two centuries ago. In recent years, many Garifunas have fled a repressive Honduran regime and settled in New York.

That fateful weekend, they were enjoying their go-to club, speaking their own language and dancing to their drum-driven Garifuna music.

The neighborhood has changed since that night. "It's gotten worse," Blanco said. With an average income of $10,000 per family, dozens of businesses are shuttered after the recession, and many residents are on welfare.

Gonzalez, now 60, sits behind bars for life in an upstate New York prison. He was convicted on 174 counts of murder — two for each victim on charges of depraved indifference and felony murder.

A refugee from Fidel Castro's Cuba, he arrived in New York in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. A decade later, he was working in a warehouse, but lost his job six weeks before setting the fire, police said.

Earlier this month, Gonzalez was denied parole.

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Brooklyn Fire Tragedy Press Conference

Hot Plates and Jewish Sabbath Become Focus of Brooklyn Tragedy

The bodies of seven children killed in Brooklyn fire are sent to Israel for burial
Members of New York's fire department hand out fire safety literature and batteries for fire alarms near the scene of a fatal fire in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Saturday, March 21, 2015. The fire raged through the residence early Saturday, killing seven children and leaving two other people in critical condition, authorities said. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Published Monday, March 23, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — The bodies of seven siblings who died in a house fire are headed to Israel for burial, a day after their sobbing father told mourners in his ultra-Orthodox Jewish community how much joy they had brought him.

"They were so pure," Gabriel Sassoon said Sunday of his children during a eulogy. "My wife, she came out fighting."

Flames engulfed the family's two-story, brick-and-wood home in Brooklyn's Midwood neighborhood early Saturday, likely after a hot plate left on a kitchen counter set off the fire that trapped the children and badly injured their mother and another sibling, investigators said.

Seven Children Dead in Brooklyn Fire

Video: Brooklyn Fire Tragedy Press Conference

The tragedy had some neighborhood Jews reconsidering the practice of keeping hot plates on for the Sabbath, a common modern method of obeying tradition prohibiting use of fire on the holy day.

The service at the Shomrei Hadas funeral home began with prayers in Hebrew, accompanied by the wailing voices of mourners. They could be heard through speakers that broadcast the rite to thousands of people gathered outside on the streets in traditional black robes and flat-brimmed hats.

After the funeral, mourners hugged the sides of SUVs with flashing lights that took the bodies of the children, ages 5 to 16 — accompanied by their father — to John F. Kennedy International Airport for the flight to Israel.

Sassoon's surviving wife and a daughter — Gayle Sassoon and 14-year-old Siporah Sassoon — remained in critical condition on respirators.

"My children were unbelievable. They were the best," Sassoon said at their funerals, calling them "angels."

Authorities identified the victims as girls Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and boys David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5.

"Eliane was a spirited child. Rivkah, she had so much joy," their father said.

Rivkah "gave joy to everybody," he said. "And David, he was so fun."

Yeshua was "always trying to make others happy," as was Yaakob, Sassoon said.

At the time of the fire, Sassoon — a religious education instructor — was in Manhattan at a Shabbaton, an educational retreat.

The hot plate was left on for the Sabbath, which lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Many religious Jews use one to keep food warm, obeying the traditional prohibition on use of fire on the holy day as well as work in all forms, including turning on appliances.

The Sassoons' hot plate apparently malfunctioned, setting off flames that tore up the stairs, trapping the children in their second-floor bedrooms as they slept, investigators said.

A neighbor, Karen Rosenblatt, said she called 911 after seeing flames and smoke billowing from the home. Her husband said he heard "what seemed like a young girl scream, 'Help me! Help me!'" she said.

Firefighters arrived in less than four minutes and discovered the badly burned and distraught mother pleading for help, officials said. When they broke in the door, they encountered a raging fire that had spread through the kitchen, dining room, common hall, stairway leading upstairs and the rear bedrooms.

"I couldn't help crying my heart out as I saw the house," said Dalia Hen, 51, a Midwood neighbor. "It's like our own children."

State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Midwood, said he's hearing from more and more people concerned about use of the hot plates on Sabbath. He said he called his daughter, who has six children and uses a hot plate, and told her, "You've got to stop using that."

"This is an important wakeup call for people, because it may save your life or the life of your children," he said.

Shifra Schorr, 44, a mother of five a few blocks from the Sassoon house, said she and her friends don't use hot plates, but "we're all talking about it."

Earlier at the family's fire-gutted home on Bedford Avenue, a police officer stood guard as contractors boarded up windows with plywood.

Across the street from the Sassoon home, 89-year-old Izzy Abade said he'd watched Gayle Sassoon grow up, then her children.

"They used to play right across the street, riding bikes, playing in the backyard, playing ball."

The family had moved about a year and a half ago from East Jerusalem, a contested part of the city where both Arabs and Jews live.

"There's only one way to survive this," Gabriel Sassoon said of his children's deaths. "There is only total and complete, utter surrender."

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Seven Children Dead in Brooklyn Fire

Fire in Midwood neighborhood kills seven and injures two
New York's Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro describes the fire to reporters during a news conference, Saturday, March 21, 2015, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Saturday, March 21, 2015. The fire raged through a residence early Saturday, killing seven children and leaving two other people in critical condition, authorities said. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Published Saturday, March 21, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — A fire that tore through a home in a heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood, leaving seven children dead and two other people in critical condition, may have been caused by a malfunctioning hot plate left on for the Sabbath, the city's fire commissioner said Saturday.

Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the deceased range in age from 5 to 15 years old. He said a woman and teenager survived after jumping from the second floor.

The woman is believed to be the mother of all eight children, Nigro said.

"This is the largest tragedy by fire that this city has had in seven years," Nigro said. "It's a tragedy for this family, it's a tragedy for this community, it's a tragedy for the city."

The names of the deceased were not released. Nigro said he believes the father is at a conference and officials have not yet been able to contact him.

Fire investigators found a smoke detector in the basement of the home, but so far none have been found elsewhere in the house, Nigro said.

"There was no evidence of smoke detectors on either the first or the second floor that may have alerted this family to the fire," he said.

Firefighters received a call at 12:23 a.m. about the blaze at the single-family home in Midwood, a leafy section of Brooklyn known for its low crime and large Orthodox Jewish population. Fire department spokesman Jim Long said more than 100 firefighters responded and brought the blaze under control at around 1:30 a.m.

Some very religious Jews refrain from doing work on the Sabbath, including turning on lights or appliances. As a result, some families may leave them on so they are usable without violating prohibitions against doing work.

Neighbor Nate Weber told the New York Post that he saw children being wheeled away on stretchers.

"I just turned away. I didn't even want to look," he said.

Weber told the New York Daily News he heard the children's mother yelling for someone to rescue her children after she jumped from a window.

"I heard a woman yelling: 'My kids are in there. Get them out! Get them out!'" he told the Post.

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  • Children Perish in Brooklyn Fire
  • Harlem Explosion Investigation Focuses on New Section of Pipe

    Blast that killed eight and injured many likely came from leak in new section
    In this March 12, 2014 file photo, firefighters work the scene of an explosion that leveled two apartment buildings killing eight people and injuring about 50, in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York. A new report indicates that a gas main that leaked before the explosion had not been pressure-tested to federal specifications because of a New York state exemption. The report by the National Transportation Safety Board made public Wednesday, March 18, 2015, does not say the lack of a pressure test had anything to do with the explosion. (AP Photo/Jeremy Sailing, File)
    Published Thursday, March 19, 2015

    NEW YORK (AP) — A gas leak that was reported just before a deadly explosion in East Harlem last year may have come from a relatively new section of plastic pipe, not the cast-iron segment that was installed in 1887, according to a report released Wednesday.

    At the time of the explosion, when the National Transportation Safety Board said it had detected gas leaks, attention was focused on Con Edison's old main as indicative of the aging infrastructure in New York and other cities.

    But a new NTSB report said that during testing with a tracer gas, high gas concentrations were found coming from a plastic segment that was installed in 2011.

    Con Edison said it was "prohibited from commenting" until the NTSB investigation is complete.

    The March 12, 2014, blast demolished two buildings, killed eight people and injured about 50.

    Manhattan Building Explosion and Collapse


    The report was among 161 documents, totaling about 3,000 pages, that were made public Wednesday in connection with the NTSB investigation. It did not include any conclusions about the root cause of the explosion.

    The report also found that the 69-foot plastic pipe segment had not been tested to federal specifications because New York regulations exempt it.

    It said federal guidelines call for pressure testing new plastic pipe at 150 percent of maximum operating pressure. But state regulations exempt pipe lengths under 100 feet, and the new pipe was tested for leaks with a visual inspection and a soap-bubble test, the report said.

    Another document shows Con Edison was admittedly deficient in making sure gas-line installers were properly certified. A Con Ed letter to the Public Service Commission acknowledges "lapses in our installer qualification process" but expresses confidence that the lapses "did not compromise the integrity of the gas system."

    Other findings in the documents include:

    —Several gas-leak surveys in the area of the explosion, including two in the month before, did not detect any leaks.

    —Several repairs were made in recent years to depressions in the road near the buildings at Park Avenue and East 116th Street. One was reported as a "cave-in" measuring 20-by-30 feet. One of the issues being examined by the NTSB is whether leaks from sewer or water mains could have caused earth to settle, compromising the gas main.

    —The water main, which dates back to 1897, had several leaks including a crack that was three-quarters of an inch wide and nearly circled the main.

    Other documents included transcripts of interviews with several Con Edison executives and supervisors, photos from videos inside pipes, and a copy of a scratch-and-sniff card Con Ed uses to help customers recognize the smell of natural gas.

    Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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    Four-Alarm Fire Burns Eight Rowhomes in Queens

    Buffalo Firefighters Rescue Man from Blaze

    Firefighters pulled a man from the second floor of a two-alarm fire
    MARK BELCHER, WIVB Published Friday, March 13, 2015

    BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A man rescued from a burning East side home was taken to Erie County Medical Center Thursday evening. Two firefighters were also hurt fighting the fire.

    Fire crews responded to an alarm at the three-story house at 147 Durham Avenue where they found the man in his 50s in a room on the second floor. Officials say an ambulance rushed one man from the house to ECMC; he was in serious condition late Thursday night.

    Officials struggled to battle flames, and say it wound up being a costly fire. It damaged roughly $30,000 to the contents of the home and $80,000 to the structure. Buffalo Fire Department sources told News 4 that the injured firefighters recovered and were returned to duty later Thursday evening.

    Fire crews say they had to bring in extra equipment and it almost became a two-alarm fire.

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    Two firefighters were injured during a house fire on Durham Avenue. (WIVB photo)

    Rash of Fatal Fires Agonize New York and Pennsylvania Communities

    Four fires, three on Monday, have killed five people
    Fatal fires across western New York and northern Pennsylvania have claimed the lives of five people. (WIVB image)
    Published Tuesday, March 10, 2015

    BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A devastating string of fires have plagued communities across western New York and northern Pennsylvania, killing five people.

    Investigations are underway in four recent fires, three of which blazed Monday — the last of which burned on Saturday.

    Fire rekindles after woman loses life in morning blaze, West Seneca, N.Y.

    Firefighters responded not once but twice to a fire on Dirkson Avenue. When they arrived the first time, they stopped it from destroying a neighboring home. It damaged that home’s roof and side. But the second time it broke out, plumes of fire and smoke raised into the air. .

    After fighting the fire the first time around they said 68-year-old Bernadine Kowalsk died after she was unable to leave the home. Firefighters did rescue a dog from the blaze.

    A fire official on the scene said buried hydrants prevented firefighters from attacking the blaze at full speed. He said their “initial attack” was hampered.

    The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

    Elderly man, dogs perish in fire, Buffalo, N.Y.

    The life of an elderly man and his two dogs were lost after a fire claimed their lives in a south Buffalo home. Firefighters responded to Weyand Avenue in the morning to fight the fire which wreaked havoc on the inside of the home.

    Firefighters say they think the fire caused about $100,000 in total damage, but haven’t yet said how the fire started. The cause is under investigation.

    Fire claims the life of an elderly citizen, Cheektowaga, N.Y.

    Firefighters say a blaze on Pine Circle in Cheektowaga may have been due to a hoarding situation. They say they arrived to the house after a neighbor called 911 Saturday morning.

    Despite their efforts, firefighters were unable to save the life of the man inside the blaze. They said it took a toll on their firefighters.

    Officials have yet to identify the man who died in the blaze but did say he was an elderly man.

    Couple dies Monday in a Potter County town, Bingham, Pa.

    Firefighters responded to a morning blaze in the Bingham Township which killed two senior citizens. Officials say Gary Briggs, 67, and Mary Briggs, 70, died in the blaze.

    The bodies of the couple were found in the rubble after firefighters put out the fire — which they say was fully enveloped in flames when they arrived.

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