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‘Black Sunday’ firefighters awarded $183M by jury

Jurors blamed the city and the building’s landlord in the deaths and injuries to the veteran firefighters who responded to the Jan. 2005 fire


NEW YORK — A Bronx Supreme Court jury Monday awarded $183 million to plaintiffs in the “Black Sunday” tenement fire that killed three FDNY firefighters — two from Long Island — and severely injured three others, according to city officials and an attorney on the case.

The decision put an end to a legal battle that stemmed from one of the city’s darkest days, which included the death of another firefighter in a separate blaze.

Jurors split blame — 80 percent for the city and 20 percent for the building’s landlord — in the deaths and injuries to the veteran firefighters who responded to the Jan. 23, 2005 fire at 236 E. 178 St. in the Tremont section of the Bronx.

The firefighters became trapped in the tenement blaze and were forced to jump out of the four-story building to avoid being burned to death.

Lt. Curtis Meyran of Malverne and firefighter John Bellew of upstate Pearl River died at the scene. Firefighter Joseph DiBernardo of Miller Place, whose heels and feet were crushed in the jump, died of his injuries on Nov. 22, 2011. Firefighters Gene Stolowski, Jeff Cool and Brendan Cawley were seriously injured.

The day was particularly tragic for the FDNY because, later that afternoon, another firefighter, Richard Scalafani of Bayside, died in a Brooklyn structure fire.

Meyran’s family settled a lawsuit with the city separately.

“There are two important issues in this case,” said Vito Cannavo, a Manhattan attorney representing the five remaining victims and their families. “First, it demonstrates that a governmental entity is not immune from liability when it fails to provide its firefighters, who put their lives on the line every day to protect our citizens, with proper safety equipment to fulfill their duties. Second, this case reaffirms clearly that landlords are to be held accountable for turning a blind eye to unsafe conditions that exist in their buildings.”

City officials expressed sympathy for the victims but said it did not agree with the verdict.

“The City has always viewed this incident as a tragedy for the firefighters and their families, but we believe that the jury’s verdict does not fairly apportion liability in view of compelling evidence that established that the landlord’s numerous building code violations were directly responsible for this horrible event,” read a statement. “We will review the record and evaluate our legal options.”

The landlord for the property could not be reached for comment.

The case hinged on evidence the city was negligent for not providing proper equipment, specifically personal safety ropes that would have enabled the firefighters to escape the inferno. What’s more, an illegal partition blocking a fire escape forced the firefighters to either jump or rappel from the windows down to an alley, the evidence showed.

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