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Videos: 3 dead in Bronx fires in final days of 2023

The FDNY faced three fatal fires, two just blocks apart from each other, as the year came to a close

By Colin Mixson, Nicholas Williams, John Annese
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A string of three tragic fires left three people dead in the Bronx in the final days of 2023.

Two people were killed in a pair of fires just three blocks apart over a span of four hours ending early Sunday, officials said, while a third died in a Friday afternoon blaze.

In the first incident, firefighters responded to the second floor of a six-story apartment building on E. 197th St. near Pond Place in Bedford Park around 4 p.m., officials said.

Medics took Brett Teply to St. Barnabas Hospital, where he later died, an FDNY spokesman said.

On Sunday, a single candle was set outside the building.

“He just had his birthday 11 days before. His birthday was December 18th,” Teply’s devastated sister Marisa Teply told the Daily News.

“He just turned 56. He didn’t care, he didn’t think about numbers. He was a sweet guy, he was an optimistic guy. He was not a negative person.”

“I was heartbroken when we lost him,” she added.

Stacey Black, a first-floor neighbor, said the building super banged on everyone’s doors and called the FDNY.

“They put it out quick,” she said. “I saw them drag (Teply) out, trying to revive him. It was hard to watch.”

The super, Ernie Ramos, said Teply was a longtime resident who lived alone in his apartment.

“ The Fire Department told me he passed away. They tried to revive him, do CPR but when they got to the hospital it was too late,” said Ramos, 58. “He inhaled all that smoke.”

“He would always say kind words, always said good morning when opening the gate to the garbage,” he added. “He would ask if I need a garbage bag”

Neighbor Alyna Smith, 45, recalled the victim as kind and well-educated.

“He gave you good conversations,” she said.

Teply’s apartment was being renovated at the time of the fire, and when the superintendent showed his sister the burned-out home, he told her there was an “explosion.”

“He took me inside and he said to me there was an explosion and I didn’t understand what he was talking about at the time,” said Marisa Teply. “I saw the stove was on its side, it was crooked and I wondered what the heck happened to the stove.

“I didn’t see much fire damage,” she added. “I didn’t see anything black and charred, which also puzzled me.”

The city’s Medical Examiner is conducting an autopsy to determine how Teply died, his family said.

On Saturday, a two-alarm blaze broke out on the second floor of a five-story building on Elder Ave. near Westchester Ave. in Soundview around 8:15 p.m., according to an FDNY spokesman. Firefighters brought the flames under control after about 50 minutes.

Medics rushed a woman found inside the building to Jacobi Medical Center, but she couldn’t be saved, police said. Her age and identity were not immediately known.

Neighbors described a dramatic scene, with some residents rushing to the fire escape only to find the drop-down ladder stuck.

One woman who lives in the building rushed out barefoot with her parents and two sisters. Her dad managed to wrench loose the drop-down ladder, injuring his elbow in the process.

“It was bad. My dad got hurt,” the woman said.

Another neighbor described seeing residents pass their children down to the people on the ground below as workers from a nearby 24-hour grocery ran to help.

“They came with a ladder to help people down,” the neighbor said of the workers.

Willy Alvarez, 45, fled his fourth-floor apartment when his wife started yelling up to him from the street below. Alvarez looked out his window to see smoke billowing out of another apartment across the building’s courtyard.

“That’s when I knew it was serious,” he said.

Just over four hours later, a blaze broke out about a quarter-mile away, on Colgate Ave. near Westchester Ave.

That fire spread to several buildings and vehicles. When firefighters extinguished the blaze, they found a 50-year-old man. He died at Jacobi Medical Center, police said.

Two police officers suffered minor smoke inhalation.

Drea Williamson, who lives in the building and works a graveyard shift at a Panera Bread inside the Montefiore Medical Center in Manhattan, learned of the blaze when she got a 1 a.m. call from her landlord Sunday telling her, “We lost everything!”

Williamson lives in a front-facing basement apartment, while the dead man lived in the rear-facing basement unit.

“That man just moved into that apartment. He just moved in two days ago. That is tragic. I feel bad,” she said. “That man had a family.”

Williamson had not yet gotten to know her neighbor well, but described him as a kind and quiet man.

“He was like me. He minded his own business. I didn’t hear any loud music. He just got there. He was nice,” she said.

Williamson moved into the apartment in September 2021 and found a busted heating system, faulty electrical wiring and plumbing that backed up whenever it rained. When she called 311 to complain of mold on her walls, she was told that her apartment had been illegally subdivided, she says.

While on scene investigating the fire, officials with the Department of Buildings discovered three illegally converted single-room occupancy units and the landlord was issued violations as a result, a DOB spokesperson said.

In January 2022, the DOB responded to the building to look into 311 calls made for construction during off hours and hazardous conditions on the sidewalk outside, but the landlord was not issued any violations, according to the spokesperson.

The blaze came as no surprise to Williamson, she said.

“If it wasn’t for the fire, it was going to go down regardless. I don’t know how it started, but I feel like it needs to be investigated,” she remarked.

Williamson doesn’t know where she’s going to stay, but feared for her cats — 4-year-old Pretty and 2-month-old Star.

“I lost everything. I only went outside with the clothes on my back,” she said. “Wherever I’m going to be placed, I would like my cats to come with me … I hope to find them alive. I hope they didn’t die in there. My cat Pretty is a supportive animal. I suffer from PTSD and anxiety. I need my cat.”

Later Sunday, a police officer went in the building at her request and found Pretty.

“Those are my babies,” she said. “That’s all I need.”

Messages left for Williamson’s landlord were not returned, and the Department of Buildings issued a full vacate order due to the fire damage.

The causes of all three fires remain under investigation.

©2023 New York Daily News.
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