By KATIE HOOS
Ten of New Rochelle’s bravest were injured, one seriously, and 36 families were displaced in a dangerous, three-alarm blaze at an apartment building on Pelham Road.
The fire broke out early in the morning on Saturday, Feb. 1, in an apartment located at 470 Pelham Road. The fire was first reported around 8:30 a.m., but sources say the fire could have started as early as 6:30 a.m.
Alba Valentine, a 25-year resident of an apartment at 472 Pelham Road, said her sister awoke her after hearing other residents screaming and seeing smoke coming from a third-floor apartment.
“My sister said ‘We have to get out’ so we grabbed our coats and our boots and left,” Valentine said.
New Rochelle Fire Chief Louis DiMeglio said when crews arrived at the scene, flames were coming out of the rear windows of apartment 3D, located on the third floor of the building. Crews rescued an unconscious man found from a third-floor apartment and carried him outside to administer CPR. The man, whose condition is unknown as of press time, was later taken to Montefiore Sound Shore Medical Center.
While searching the building for more tenants, DiMeglio said two firefighters were pushed backward when the fire flashed—creating a rapid, intense burst of flames caused by the mixture of air and flammable substances—and tried to exit the building through a window. One firefighter tried to grab hold of a railing on an exterior landing, but the railing gave way, causing him to fall 25 feet to the ground. He sustained a broken pelvis, broken arm and bruising.
DiMeglio said nine other injured firefighters suffered burns, bruises and smoke inhalation.
The three-alarm fire, which brought crews from Yonkers and White Plains as well, was the third fire the New Rochelle Fire Department responded to in the area within a week’s time. Firefighters also battled a two-alarm apartment fire at 247 Drake Ave. on Jan. 24 and a two-alarm apartment fire at 52 Drake Ave. on Jan. 28. DeMiglio said the three incidents were unrelated and merely coincidental.
The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the Hugh Doyle Center located at 94 Davis Ave, provided dinner the night of the Feb. 1 fire and helped victims file housing forms with the county Department of Social Services. The Westchester Habitat for Humanity, whose office is located at 524 Main St. in New Rochelle, was also available to assist the families displaced by the fire.
Jim Killoran, executive director of the Westchester Habitat for Humanity and a New Rochelle resident, was on the scene distributing food and coffee and assessing the needs of the displaced families. Killoran also provided clothing, furniture and monetary donations for the victims of the disaster.
“I’m there to be an advocate and provide assistance for people to get back into their places or to get into other housing,” Killoran said, adding that Habitat will also make sure the residents are represented and know what their legal rights are as tenants.
“Unfortunately, the tragedy of the fire just accentuates the needs in our community,” he said.
The building, which is divided into three sections—470, 472 and 474 Pelham Road—incurred varying levels of damage from the fire. Some portions of 472 Pelham Road were damaged by water and smoke, so tenants of those units were able to return to their apartments to salvage whatever belongings they could before building management cleaned them out.
Deputy Commissioner of the New Rochelle Bureau of Buildings, Paul Vacca said the building at 470 Pelham Road where the fire was contained, incurred significant damage and Pelmar, Inc., the building management company, will need to go before the New Rochelle Zoning Board of Appeals sometime in March before reconstruction can begin. The apartments at 474 Pelham Road saw minimal to no damage. Con Edison initially shut down power to the building but has since restored electricity and is expected to restore gas lines Thursday, according to Vacca.
Vern Groat, an 18-year res-ident of 472 Pelham Road said building management informed tenants to have everything out of their apartments by Wednesday, Feb. 12. Management will then begin to work on repairing the apartments. Groat, who is temporarily living with his cousin, said his apartment has extreme water damage and will need to be gutted. Concerned about the renovation’s cost, Groat said, “Now the question is, are they going to raise rent?”