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FDNY marks 3rd anniversary of tragic death of 13 Bronxites caused by five-alarm fire

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Monday December 28, 2017 marked the 3rd anniversary of the tragic five-alarm fire that claimed 13 lives in the Bronx.

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY), in remembering this day, urged New Yorkers to always close the door behind them when escaping a fire.

"Closing the door behind you when escaping the fire will trap the fire, prevent it from spreading and save lives. When it comes to fire safety, the message is the same in every language," read the message posted on the FDNY's official Twitter account.

On the fateful night, a fire tore through an apartment building in the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx. 

13 people died and 14 were injured. It was the deadliest fire in New York City in 25 years.

As a result of the fire, the New York City Council passed ordinances mandating self-closing doors and child-safety knobs in apartments, as well as better communication about fire safety between the New York City Fire Department and families with children.

The building housed 26 apartments on five floors that were connected by a central staircase, which filled with smoke early during the fire because of the open door. 

While the building itself did not have any New York City Department of Buildings violations, apartments five on the 1st floor and 23 on the 5th floor had faulty smoke detectors. The central section of the building's facade had a fire escape that went from the 5th to 2nd floors.

Just before 7 p.m, an unattended three-year-old child began playing with the burners on the stove in a first floor apartment at 2363 Prospect Avenue, a five-story building with 26 apartments, home to many Dominican, Trinidadian, Ghanaian, and Jamaican families.

Soon after, a fire took hold in the kitchen and the boy's screams alerted his mother. But in her hurry to get the boy and his younger sibling out she left the door to their 1st floor apartment open, which enabled the fire to breathe and spread beyond the apartment into the stairwell. 

The open ventilation enabled the fire to spread more quickly and pump more smoke into the hallway. As the apartment's kitchen went into flash over heat erupted from the open doorway and ignited multiple layers of oil-based paint in the main stairway. 

The smoke from combustibles in the apartment and the burning walls of the stairway quickly permeated the entire apartment building, and within minutes the fire department was on the scene.

Firefighters and emergency services began responding to the 4-alarm fire at 18:51. Smoke pouring into the complex was the main challenge for firefighters and civilians. "I opened the door, all I saw was black smoke…" one survivor who lived on the 1st floor told the news. The New York City Fire Commissioner compared the stairway to a "chimney" as it became a conduit for thick, toxic smoke via the stack effect. Smoke seeped into rooms through door frame and ventilation systems, setting off fire alarms throughout the complex and awaking residents.

Around 170 firefighters responded to the 5-alarm fire. Temperatures that morning were in the teens with wind chill in the single digits, requiring some firefighters to huddle together for warmth as they sprayed water on the blaze. Their quick action was credited for saving dozens of lives.

12 people were found dead in the aftermath, with one more person passing away at the hospital. The fire ultimately killed eight adults, two teenagers, and three children. All of the individuals who died passed away on the upper floors above from where the fire started, mainly due to being obstructed by the thick smoke in the stairwell. Many residents were able to evacuate the upper floors via the fire escapes, but in the process of opening their windows gave the fire more oxygen.

A United States Army soldier who lived on the 3rd floor, Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah, ran back into the building after evacuating his family. He saved five others before succumbing to smoke on the 4th floor.


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