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FDNY probie in 1 of 3 roof rope rescues at fatal apartment fire

Fire companies in Harlem faced several occupants hanging from windows and jumping from upper floors

By Kerry Burke, Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — One man died and five people were critically injured when fire ripped through a Harlem apartment building Friday, trapping panicked residents on fire escapes and leading one man to fall from a ledge, officials and witnesses said.

The five critically hurt were among 12 injured people rushed to area hospitals. Eighteen people were injured in all.

One critically injured person taken to a hospital could not be saved, fire officials said. Three of the hospitalized injured were found unconscious on the upper floors of the six-story building, said the officials.

Firefighters responding to the 31-unit apartment building at 2 St. Nicholas Place near W. 149th St. about 2:15 p.m. found a raging blaze on the third floor. A man dangled from the building before he dropped to the ground below, witnesses said.

“He fell all the way to the ground below. This is insane,” said Michelle Paradis, who lives in the building.

The man’s fall, captured on video, occurred before firefighters arrived at the scene, officials said. Fire officials could not immediately say if the man who fell had died or if he was among the critically injured.

Firefighters were on the scene within 3 1/2 minutes of being alerted, said FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens.

Arriving firefighters found residents clinging to fire escapes on the third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors, said Hodgens. Others awaited rescue at apartment windows. Some trapped residents jumped from the building to escape the flames, witnesses said.

“They opened the windows and they were hanging on the ledge,” Paradis said.

“The fire was on the third floor, blowing into the hallways trapping people above,” said First Deputy Fire Commissioner Joseph Pfeifer.

Firefighters performed three daring rescues aided by ropes hung from the building’s roof.

The particular rope technique involved in the rescues — in which one firefighter is attached to a rope secured from above by another firefighter — is rarely used, the Fire Department says. “We usually have one of these a year, or two. This was three at one fire,” said Hodgens.

Those rescued by the technique were among the most severely injured. “All of those people unfortunately are in critical condition, but they are at the hospital,” Hodgens said.

Another man escaped the flames after breaking through locked doors to a fire escape.

“I was napping and the fire alarm went off, and then two more,” said Amar Bhatia, 21.

“People in the hallway were screaming ‘Help me!’,” Bhatia said.

“I considered jumping, but thank God we got out.”

“There was smoke from the last apartment in the rear. It was a horrible experience,” Paradis said. “People were escaping from their apartments through all the fire escapes.”

Firefighters said an NYPD helicopter crew helped them pinpoint people needing to be rescued with ropes. The chopper crew also captured dramatic video of the rope rescues.

Probationary Firefighter Jason Lopez was one of the three firefighters lowered by rope to make rescues.

“We made our way up to the roof,” Lopez said. “Once I went over the parapet — looked over the parapet — I told them not to jump. We were coming down to rescue them.”

Firefighter Micheal Kotzo lowered Lopez by rope. “It can happen anywhere in the city. When it does, your training just kicks in,” Kotzo said.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation Friday evening.

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