‘There is blood on the hands of this private industry': FDNY commish speaks out after triple-fatal fire
FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh says Brooklyn fire is the 17th fatal fire due to lithium-ion batteries
By Rebecca White, Anna Gratzer, Leonard Greene
New York Daily News
The three-alarm fire was sparked by a battery alongside two stand-up scooters in the bottom floor of the family’s longtime home on Albany Ave. near Park Place in Crown Heights about 4:30 a.m. Sunday. The scooters and battery belonged to one of the victims, FDNY officials said.
Albertha West, the family matriarch who perished with her son and grandson, turned 81 earlier this month and had celebrated with her sprawling extended family over the weekend in the same house that would be reduced to rubble and ashes Sunday.
“We hung out on Friday,” devastated granddaughter Trinece Ward, 33 said. “We had a party. It was fun. Everybody came out. It was at the house where the fire happened.”
Also killed in the fire were West’s son, Mike West, 58, and her grandson, Jamiyl West, 33. Firefighters found the victims amid the smoke and flames. They were rushed to Kings County Hospital, but could not be saved.
The heartbroken family was already reeling from the death of another one of Albertha West’s sons, Henry West, who died on Thursday of a suspected heart attack.
“Right now we’re still trying to figure it out,” Ward said of the uncle who died before the fire. “He wasn’t sick or anything.”She said the deadly fire was grief on top of grief.
“We’re trying to get through it together,” she said. “The family spent the night out yesterday. We went to my Aunt Julia’s house and talked about everything.”
Among the things they talked about was how to get through the holidays without their beloved grandmother.
“She was a sweetheart,” Ward said. “She was definitely the matriarch. It’s hard now because we don’t want to have Thanksgiving because it would’ve been at the house. She was the best cook.”
FDNY officials added the blaze to the long list of fires sparked by lithium ion batteries.
“This was a difficult and a dangerous fire that led to a massive response from our members and seriously injured one of our firefighters,” said FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. “This brings our total number of people killed by fires caused by these batteries for this year alone to 17. This number is staggering and is devastating, and it underlies a problem that we have been sounding an alarm on for some time. At 17 lithium ion battery fatalities, we are on track to surpass 100 fire deaths this year. That is an extraordinary number not seen in decades.”
Kavanagh said most people who buy lithium ion batteries are unaware of the dangers.
“Normally if you buy something online, you do not think it is going to burst into flames in your home. You assume it’s safe,” Kavanagh said of the batteries. ”“This is a private home as are most places where we’ve seen these deaths. We can’t inspect in a home like this and I would bet very much that the West family thought when they bought this device that it was safe.”
”FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens said one victim was found on the second floor and two were found on the third floor. He said no fire escape was required at that building, and said it was unclear if there were fire alarms.
“This was a very difficult fire with a very tragic outcome,” Hodgens said. “When firefighters arrived in three minutes and 20 seconds – which is a fast response time – there were flames coming out every window and the front door. It was very challenging but they stretched hose lines into each floor. They knew they couldn’t get to the occupants. One of our main objectives is to search for life when we arrive so firefighters went around the rear and were able to get a ladder up to the third floor and were able to get two people out, unfortunately not in time.”
Hodgens said they were beaten by the blaze.
“We attacked this fire from the front and the rear,” he said. “We do everything we can to get in and save people. With this amount of fire – which as the commissioner mentioned is very common with these e-bike devices where there’s no time to get out- they start to smolder within 20 to 30 seconds, they erupt into flames. In this type of occupancy, the fire went right up the stairs which is right adjacent to these front windows and the people were unable to get out even under the best circumstances.”
Hannah Wilson, 25, who lives in the building, said the fire and smoke woke her at about 4:35 a.m., and she ran outside.
“The smoke was just flooding into our apartment,” Wilson said. “The flames were so close. I was freaking out. We just ran down the stairs. There was so much smoke in our entryway that we couldn’t tell if it was us or not. We’re just so grateful that we got out so quickly. It was devastating.”
She said she didn’t know how bad it was until she got outside.
“It looked like a movie set,” she said. The amount of flames coming out of that building was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in real life. It felt like it couldn’t be real because it was so much fire erupting and from all floors. The heat was substantial.”