Armed with a trash bag full of clothes and a large box of detergent, Nickoy Brown tried to wash the smoke smell out of his clothes at a laundromat less than a block away from where his home burned down a little over a week before.
At approximately 10 a.m. on July 3, the FDNY responded to a blaze emanating from the Scriptural Baptist Church located at 189-27 Linden Blvd. in St. Albans. The fire destroyed the bottom floor and much of the apartments located above, including Brown’s.
The fire started in a side room that was partitioned off and filled with clothes the church had collected. The garments were located next to some wires that overheated, igniting the blaze, an FDNY spokesman said Tuesday.
The tall young man, 25, who had lived in an apartment with his parents for the last five years, was preparing breakfast when he smelled something burning. Concerned about his mother’s safety, he went into her bedroom — that’s when he saw smoke rising up from the floor.
“By the time I looked in my room and looked back, I couldn’t see anything. The smoke was so much,” Brown said Monday. “So I told my mother, ‘Run. Fire.’”
Janet Brown, 53, ran down the stairs and made it out of the building, escaping injury. Meanwhile, Nickoy Brown gathered some of his mother's personal papers, put them in a suitcase and threw it out the window, before making the jump himself. He too, was unscathed.
But others weren’t so lucky. Four tenants were injured, one seriously, according to the FDNY.
“I’ve never seen that much smoke before,” Brown said. “It smelled like rubber, wood — everything all mixed up together.”
Minutes after he jumped, firefighters arrived on the scene. When Brown looked back at the building he saw smoke pouring out of the windows. By that time a large crowd had assembled to watch the blaze.
“It was like a party. A lot of people were there,” Brown said. “There was like 100 to 200 firefighters there. It was a big thing.”
Brown said he feels lucky to be alive, even though most of his personal possessions incurred smoke damage and could not be salvaged.
“I washed what I could wash and threw away what I had to throw away,” he said. “I pretty much lost everything.”
Brown’s father was at work when the fire occurred and was stunned when his son told him what had happened. “When I went to his job to tell him, he knew there was something wrong, because I never go to his job,” Brown said.
At around 6 p.m. that evening Brown was allowed to go back into his apartment to gather his belongings before being told to vacate the premises. The Red Cross provided accommodations for his family and other tenants at a Howard Johnson hotel on Jamaica Avenue.
Brown stayed there for three days while he searched for a new place to live, eventually moving into an apartment in Springfield Gardens. The Red Cross referred Brown to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, but the agency only had housing available in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Brown said, and he wanted to remain in Queens.
He added that no one from the church inquired about his family’s safety or offered them help. “I am surprised,” he said. “Not even a ‘Hello.’”
On Monday the sign above the storefront church, one of only two open establishments on the block, was blackened, and the windows to the apartments above had been boarded up. Several vacate orders had been taped to the two entrances and no one answered the door at the residences.
The pastor of the church, the Rev. J. Jenkins Jr,. and his wife, operate the Scriptural Christian Supply Center, a bookstore adjacent to the church, which was not damaged by the fire.
Mrs. Jenkins, who would not give her first name, claimed no one named Brown lived above the church. When asked to comment about the fire and Brown’s allegation that the church had not helped the tenants, she said “The church is in the same situation. We have suffered a loss also,” before abruptly hanging up the phone.