It was a terrifying scene early last Thursday morning in South Jamaica as six people, desperate to escape the smoke and flames that were ravaging their home, were about to jump from second-story windows in an attempt to flee. A woman hung her toddler from one window and dropped him into the arms of a good samaritan passing by, according to a fire official.
The blaze at 143-18 Rockaway Blvd. began in the hallway, completely blocking the exits with thick billowing black smoke, but the flames did not make their way into the apartments because the doors were closed, according to Capt. Anthony Varriale of Engine 302, which is located across the street and was the first company on the scene.
Six people were taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center for smoke inhalation. Two firefighters were also injured. One sustained a torn rotator cuff while other sprained his ankle, Varriale said.
Firefighters from Engine 302-Ladder 155 had just come back a half an hour earlier from another blaze in the northern part of Jamaica when they realized they were needed once again.
Varriale and Capt. Daniel Delargy of Ladder 155 were making out their report from the previous call, when Varriale said he heard a scream.
At first, he said, he didn’t think anything of it because the area is always buzzing with activity and he thought it was just some neighborhood youths being rowdy, but he soon realized he was wrong.
“I could see heavy, black, smoke coming out of the top three windows,” Varriale said. “There were people in the two right windows. There was a woman standing on the ledge from the middle window, hanging the baby down. ... And before I could say ‘Don’t drop him,’ she dropped him, and this guy caught him.”
The blaze began at about 2:50 a.m. and 12 units and 60 firefighters were on the scene in minutes to tackle the all-hands fire. It was brought under control at 3:36 a.m.
“The people were in panic mode because they couldn’t breathe,” Varriale said. “Several of them had lacerations from breaking the windows. They couldn’t go down the stairs because there was nothing but fire in the stairwell. What saved them was the door to the apartment was closed to the hall.”
Since the cause is still under investigation, about four officials from the Fire Marshall’s Office were at the scene examining the structure on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re surveying the damage and canvassing the area to see if anyone knows what happened,” said one official, who would not give his name.
The door to the house was padlocked closed. Fire officials said the occupants had copies of the keys, so they could go in and retrieve their belongings, but they would not be allowed to live there.