Harrowing new details emerged Monday of how firefighters battling the deadly Bronx blaze found victims on “every floor” of the 19-story building – with some Bravest forced to crawl around to get air after their tanks ran out of oxygen.
About 200 FDNY members responded to Sunday’s five-alarm blaze that left at least 17 people dead, including eight children, and dozens more seriously injured.
All of those who perished died of smoke inhalation, FDNY Firefighters Association officials said at a press conference.
Plumes of blinding, choking smoke were able to billow through the entire building after the door of the apartment where the blaze broke out was left open, said authorities – who blamed the fire’s origin on a malfunctioning electric space heater in a bedroom.
Dozens of panicked residents rushed into the ash-choked stairwells, while some escaped to the roof to await help. Others hunkered down in their apartments hoping they would be found by firefighters.
“[Firefighters] found people on every single floor,” said Andrew Ansbro, president of the FDNY Firefighters Association, referring to victims.
“They were calling calling for medical responses, urgent medical responses, to the roof and just about every floor in the building, so people were rescued throughout the entire structure,” fellow union president, Jim McCarthy, added.
Crews going from floor-to-floor continued making rescues even after their own air supplies ran out. Some firefighters were forced to crawl on the floor where there was “some breathable air,” McCarthy said.
He added that the crews “risked themselves and their well-being to try and get the residents out of this building. Many of them ran out of air with their self-contained breathing apparatus and still continued working at personal peril to try and rescue as many people as possible.”
McCarthy said crews have tanks that can provide oxygen for 45 minutes — and an alarm goes off when there’s only about 10 minutes of air left.
“Many of the firefighters in this incident operate while those alarms were going off and pushing the envelope is as close as possible to running out of air, and some did – just to try and save as many lives as possible,” he said.
Ansbro added that it is part of their training, and “they have their tactics to conserve their own air and slow down their breathing.
“When I got on the scene, it was absolutely horrific. I talked to many veteran firefighters, they said it was the worst fire they’ve responded to,” Ansbro said.
Three of the engine crews that responded were “understaffed” due to COVID-19 illnesses, the union officials said.
Those three crews only had four firefighters instead of the five they are called for.
“Staffing changes were related to medical leave that was heightened by COVID,” McCarthy said.
Fire officials have denied there was any issue with staffing.
Investigators are still trying to determine whether anything could have been done to prevent the blaze and lessen the casualties.