Labor Day turned out to be a nightmare for families living in an apartment building on Beach 91st Street. A two-alarm fire broke out in the early morning hours of Monday, September 4, which left the families with nothing, but they made it out alive due to quick thinking and the bravery of FDNY.
Dawn Mercado, who lived where the fire first started on the second floor of the 173 Beach 91st Street building, recalled the events of that night. “My 18-year-old daughter, Dominique, met her boyfriend outside and was smoking a cigarette. It was around 2:30 a.m. My mom, Robin, woke up to use the bathroom and she saw that the bed was on fire. She immediately woke me and my 10-year-old son up. If it wasn’t for my mom waking us up, I don’t know what would’ve happened because we didn’t hear or smell anything. When she woke us up, we could see the smoke and we ran out of the house with no shoes, just the clothes on our back,” Mercado said. Firefighters found the cause to be an accident. “My daughter had a cat in her room and she likes to light candles. We think the cat knocked over one of the candles and it set the bed on fire,” Mercado said. The family hasn’t found the cat.
While the Mercado’s ran out to safety, Dominique’s boyfriend called 911. “The fire spread quickly because it took the fire department 10 minutes to get there and with all the cars parked where the fire hydrant was, they had a problem getting the hose over to the house,” Mercado said. As the firefighters on site tried to put out the blaze, Lieutenant Joseph Costa of Ladder 137 and Lieutenant Sean Hayden of Ladder 121 took quick action to rescue members of the family on the third floor, where the fire had spread.
"We ran into the burning building when we heard screams and looked up to see a woman straddling the third floor window sill with a baby. There was a lot of smoke coming out over her head and she was very distressed. She was looking below for someone to drop the baby to. Lieutenant Sean Hayden and I ran into the building and right to her apartment where we encountered zero visibility and punishing high heat conditions," Lieutenant Joseph Costa told the FDNY. ”When we made it into the front bedroom, Lieutenant Hayden and I each grabbed a baby and guided the others down the interior stairs and out to safety as quickly as possible. We got them all out safely and that's what is most important.” Lieutenant Hayden said, "When you have someone hanging out the window ready to drop a baby and jump, everything that we learned and trained for comes into play."
The FDNY was able to get the blaze under control by 3 a.m. “Our success would not have been possible without the aggressive interior push the Engine company made with the hose line. They did a tremendous job putting the fire out under extreme conditions," Costa said. There were no casualties, however more than a dozen people were hospitalized including a man who had jumped from a window, and several firefighters.
The victims are now left without homes and most, if not all, of their belongings. “I was allowed to go back in with a Red Cross worker the next day to see if I could get identification, but I couldn’t even get that. I couldn’t see anything. Everything was burned and turned to ash and the walls were ripped down. I couldn’t even get to the back room where the fire had started,” Mercado said.
Rockaway has already started to rally to help the families recover. Individuals, groups and even local businesses have stepped up to assist them. “Pickles and Pies donated cards to get food, the Rockaway Surf Shop donated t-shirts and someone brought my son’s school list to Job Lot and the store donated all of the supplies on his list. Marissa Bernowitz of We Care New York and Pastor Garry of House on the Rock Church brought sleeping bags and air mattresses because we’ve been sleeping on my sister’s floor. There are 11 of us in a three-bedroom apartment, so we’re trying to find another place to stay,” Mercado said. A GoFundMe account has also been started to raise money for the family. Anyone who wants to make a monetary donation, can do so by going to www.gofundme.com/te4btq-house-fire-destroys-everything. “I appreciate everything everyone has been doing for us,” Mercado said.
The Rockaway Times could not get in touch with the family that resided on the third floor of the building. The mother of the two young children that were rescued reportedly works for dentist, Dr. Stein at 90-08 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, which is collecting donations.
Mercado says she doesn’t know what’s next. “I’ve lived in Rockaway my whole life and I don’t know if we’re going to be able to stay here. My son is really shaken up. But I’m just glad that my children and mother are alive and my neighbors are okay. My children are here, my mother is here. We’re alive. After Sandy, we were displaced and I had to work to get everything together and I’ll do it again,” she said.
By Katie McFadden
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