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Dying in the Dark: Factors of Structural Fires

November 11, 2013 | Michael Barasch

In July, a fire broke out shortly before 4 a.m. in a three-story building in the Throggs Neck portion of the Bronx, taking the life of a 55-year-old woman and seriously injuring her husband, mother and granddaughter. 

As firefighters responded to the fire at the home of Ramon Velez, Jr., son of the late city councilman Ramon Velez, smoke poured from the house. All four members of the family were unconscious and suffering cardiac arrest when discovered, three on the third floor, and one near the front door. 

The investigation into the cause of the blaze continues. An investigation also continues into an apparent delay that occurred between receipt of the 911 call and the firefighter dispatch. It took 13 units a half-hour to bring the structural fire under control by 4:30 a.m. 

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) reports that fire fatalities have decreased in recent years, with 66 deaths in 2011. The U.S. Fire Administration notes these factors in many residential fires: 

  • Victims are asleep and susceptible to smoke inhalation because residential fires often occur late at night or in the early morning hours.
  • Followed by electrical malfunction, unintentional or careless actions are the leading cause of residential fires, including storage of combustible materials near a heat source, candles or cigarettes left burning, or still-smoldering materials put in the trash.
  • Most fatal residential fires start in bedrooms and occur in the cooler months of the year. 

In this case, it is not clear if candles found in the home caused the fire. It is clear that delay in getting help could mean the difference between safety and serious injury or death from smoke inhalation or burns in a residential fire.

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