A friend sent me this article about a Greenpoint fire in 1994. The descriptions of the neighborhood astonished me. It’s hard to believe that so much could have changed so quickly. From a working-class neighborhood of ‘smoky factories’ the area is can now be better described as ‘one where working-class people can’t afford to live.’ If I had known it would change so quickly, I would have paid more attention; but it seemed like it would last forever. Some things haven’t changed though: judging from the number of typos, the Times’ copy-editing was just as lousy back then as it is now.
21 Injured in Greenpoint Tenement Fire
A critically burned woman was forced to leap from a window, 20 other people were injured, some as they were rescued from fiery rooms, and 25 families were left homeless early yesterday when a four-alarm fire roared through a row of four tenement buildings in a Brooklyn waterfront community on the East River.
No one was killed in the spectacular blaze of undetermined origin, which burned out of control for two hours despite the efforts of 200 firefighters and gutted the three-story attached frame buildings at 198, 200, 202 and 204 Huron Street, between Manhattan Avenue and McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint.
But many were trapped in subdivided apartments without fire escapes, and the drama and peril of firefighting in a densely populated urban area unfolded on Huron Street, across from Manhattan’s skyscrapers, as three residents leaped from second-story windows, a firefighter and four residents were plucked from burning rooms onto aerial ladders and many firefighters were driven back by collapsing roofs and walls of flame. A Night of Terror and Bravery
“This was the worst thing I’ve seen since Vietnam — it was an inferno,” John Cruz, 42, said as he surveyed the smoldering ruins of the smoke-blackened clapboard, shingle and faux-brick tenements from his stoop across the street at 195 Huron and recalled a night of terror, chaos and bravery.
Mr. Cruz and other neighborhood residents said firefighters were delayed 8 to 10 minutes in battling the fire by a lack of water pressure in a hydrant and the need to hook up at another fireplug. These witnesses contended that two of the four buildings might have been saved with adequate water pressure.
But Deputy Chief Philip J. Burns, commander of the 40 fire units on the scene, denied this contention, saying that firefighters had reported no delays or inadequate pressure to him. He said the fire had begun on the top floor of 202 Huron and spread rapidly through a common cockloft connecting the buildings.
The fire was yet another hardship in a working-class community with a large population of Polish and Hispanic immigrants, a district of tenement buildings, smoky factories and run-down warehouses that is known for environmental hazards and ranks highest in the city for leukemia in children and other cancers in adults.
Residents who fled in nightclothes told of racing with children down burning stairways, of neighbors who ran to their windows with ladders and firefighters who risked their lives to get people out. One man forced to jump from a second-floor window was saved from impalement on a wrought-iron fence by a neighbor who had flung a mattress over its spikes, a witness said.
Diana Martinez, who escaped with her husband and two daughters, recalled seeing a fireman trapped on the third floor of No. 202, where the flames had broken out. “He came to the middle window, screaming, ‘Get me out of here! I can’t breathe!’ and all you saw was smoke coming from around him.”
Pablo Roldan, who lives across the street, saw him, too. “He tried to break the window guard, but it wouldn’t break. He was screaming, ‘Bring the ladder! Bring the ladder!’ They swung the ladder around, but he couldn’t fit through the window. He ducked back in and came crashing out and landed in the bucket. As soon as he got out, the flames shot out the window.”
Chief Burns said the cause of the fire was not immediately determined and would be investigated by marshals, though he said he knew of nothing that would classify it as suspicious. He said the blaze, which was reported in a telephone call at 12:36 A.M., was advancing through the cockloft by the time firefighters arrived and quickly went to four alarms.
Even before the arrival of firefighters, Chief Burns said, three residents trapped in burning rooms — two women and a man — leaped from second-story windows and were injured. The most seriously injured, Eva Jarocka, 38, of 202 Huron, suffered extensive burns and was in critical condition yesterday at the burn center of New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center.
Joseph Przygodzki, 56, of 202 Huron, leaped from a second floor window in the front and suffered a broken leg. He landed on an iron fence, but was apparently saved by a mattress that Mr. Roldan had thrown over the spikes. Mr. Przygodzki was in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital Center.
As firefighters raced through the buildings to alert and evacuate residents, others took water hoses inside to fight the flames, Chief Burns said. “When fire broke out all along the top floors, we had to back the men out rather than risk serious injury,” he said. “There was overwhelming fire.”
He said two tower ladders were deployed to shoot streams of water onto the roofs and into the front windows of the burning buildings, while a high-powered water cannon shot streams from the rear yard. But the flames, feeding on decades-old wood construction, were too powerful, and it was 3 A.M. by the time firefighters were able to bring them under control. Roofs Collapse
In the meantime, he said, the roofs and upper walls of 200 and 202 Huron collapsed; a firefighter, Lee Ielpi, was struck by a collapsing ceiling as he searched for residents, a tower ladder was used to rescue another firefighter and four residents were taken from burning rooms down aerial ladders. The chief said 16 firefighters and 5 civilians were injured in the blaze.
Residents said that apartments in the buildings had been subdivided years ago, cutting those in the front off from fire escapes set in the back.
Martin Czerwinski, 12, who lives on the second floor of No. 202, recalled: “I was sleeping when my uncle came in screaming, ‘Fire!’ We opened a window and yelled for help. My uncle said, ‘Let’s try to get down the stairs,’ but there was too much smoke and fire. So we went to the window and yelled. I thought I was going to die.” But Mr. Roldan and others ran up with ladders and they were saved.
Most ran out in nightclothes, leaving all their possessions behind. Larry Mackler of the American Red Cross said 25 families — 65 people — lost their homes and all their possessions in the fire. Eight families were put up by the Red Cross at hotels, while the others moved in with relatives or friends.