The Blizzard of 05(-5-5-5)
The Blizzard of 2005 will not be remembered for the 17 inches of snow it dumped on the city. Sadly, it will be remembered for the three transmissions of 5-5-5-5.
The weather service, earlier in the week, predicted a significant snowfall. Sanitation had time to load the salt spreaders and attach the plows. But even with its massive arsenal, cleaning all of the primary roads would take some time. The FDNY knew response times would increase and fire ground operations would be difficult in the deep snow so they ordered all units to be staffed with five fire fighters for the weekend.
By the time Sunday morning, January 23 rolled around 17 inches of snow covered most of the City. The streets were slippery, the sidewalks were impassable, and the sub-freezing temperatures kept most people indoors.
At 0759 hours, the Bronx central office transmitted box 2997 for 226 East 178 Street in the Mount Hope section; fire reported on the third floor. Despite snow-covered roads, engine 42 and ladder 27 managed to arrive 4 minutes later.
By 0812 hours, the fire fighters were well into their operation. Battalion 19 reported that they were using all hands for a fire on the third floor of a four story, 40x80 multiple dwelling. One line was operating and they were in the process of stretching the second. However, the fire was getting ahead of them. By 0816 hours, fire was showing from the windows on the third floor. Both hose lines now poured water onto the fire. The truck companies started opening up and the primary search was underway. What happened next will be the subject of an intense investigation.
At 0823 hours, Division 7 made an urgent transmission: "Transmit a second alarm. We have a MAYDAY from several fire fighters." Somehow, one of the hose lines lost pressure.
Fire extended to the fourth floor and blocked the egress of six fire fighters. With nowhere else to go, they had to choose between being burned alive or jumping fifty feet to the ground. One can only imagine what was going through their minds. Self-preservation would stop the average person from attempting such a maneuver, yet out they went -- all six of them.
The fire now was showing through the roof. With some of the fire fighters tending to their fallen comrades Division 7 needed additional resources and requested a third alarm at 0833 hours. It took another 97 minutes to tame the Red Devil -- but it took us less time to learn of the fate of those who had jumped.
Lieutenant Curtis Meyran was the one most severely injured by the fall. He was removed by EMS in traumatic arrest and the first to pass away. A short time later fire fighter John Bellew slipped away. The other four, Eugene Stolowski and Brendan Cawley of Ladder 27, Jeffery Cool and Joseph DiBernardo of Rescue 3 managed to pull through.
While we were deeply saddened to learn of the deaths, we were able to maintain some emotional detachment. After all, we do not see on a regular basis the faces associated with the names. We do not put our lives in someone else's hands and develop that emotional bond that all fire fighters share regardless of jurisdiction. Nor did we know them personally -- except for Joseph DiBernardo.
Joseph, or Joey D as he is known by to his friends, was a Bronx dispatcher before he followed in his father's footsteps, a retired deputy chief. When we learned he was one of the injured, the emotional barriers eroded somewhat. We were told the fall broke his legs, hips, and pelvis. These injuries typically are not life threatening, nevertheless the doctor's listed his condition as critical.
While we waited with anticipation for any word on Joey we still had to go about our business. Regardless of what happens at a single incident, there are others always ongoing. Life goes on, as they say, and the Red Devil waits for no man.
See the NIOSH report here,
At 1345 hours we received numerous calls reporting a fire at 577 Jerome Avenue in the East New York section of Brooklyn. The building is a 2-story 25x75 private dwelling with fire in the basement. At 1347 hours battalion 44 reported using all-hands and requested an extra engine and truck due to window bars.
Ladder 103, being assigned first due operated on the fire floor, the basement. Their job was to search for the location of the fire and any trapped residents. From our perspective in the office it sounded like a typical fire. But as any fire fighter will tell you, there is no such thing as a typical fire. Just three minutes later battalion 44 reported, "Transmit a second alarm! We have a Mayday!"
Fire fighter Richard Sclafani, somehow, became separated from the rest of the company. He was found minutes later on the cellar stairs in respiratory arrest. He was brought to the local trauma center but it was too late.
We were stunned. What are the odds on having 2 fatal fires on the same day? It hasn't happened before to my knowledge and hopefully never again. Lt Curtis Meyran, FF John Belew, and FF Richard Sclafani now have a place amongst the honored dead on the Memorial wall at headquarters, numbers 1129, 1130 and 1131 respectively.