Firefighters responding to a deadly Woodside fire that killed three and injured four in an illegal basement apartment yesterday could have arrived sooner — had they not been routed to the wrong address first. A 911 operator mistakenly entered a two instead of a five and sent Engine Company 292 and Rescue Company 4 on a "wild goose chase" to 62nd Street instead of 65th Street, a delay that cost firefighters about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, according to the fire union.
"This is another example of a $1 billion project not working properly," said Leroy McGinnis of the Uniformed Firefighters Association — referring to the FDNY's new dispatch system that uses 911 operators to route responders instead of dedicated fire dispatchers. "Had units arrived on scene in their order, we may not have saved all the lives, however we'll never know because we didn't get the chance," said the union member, whose organization last month claimed that the new dispatchers had mistakenly routed firefighters to a cellular tower instead of the location of a City Island fire.
The Woodside firefighters arrived at yesterday's blaze 4 minutes and 55 seconds after the 911 call, but by then other units were already combating the inferno. "[The error] was addressed within a timely manner … We still had a very good response time." Nonetheless, by the time the misdirected engines arrived at the home — which is owned by Bangladeshi immigrants Subir and Marina Barua — two people were already dead and a third, who later died at Elmhurst Hospital, was trapped behind the basement window's security bars.
The fire apparently began when the boiler exploded in the basement of the wood-frame house, which is supposed to be a two-family home, but contained 10 residents living in "at least four single-occupancy rooms in the basement and two apartments on the second floor," according to the Post . The illegally partitioned basement lacked a required second exit, "from which some of the victims might have been able to escape," according to CBS. There were no smoke detectors in the basement, and two detectors in other parts of the home had no batteries. In the aftermath of the blaze, the city has started to crack down on illegally subdivided basement apartments in the neighborhood, issuing a vacate order on the property and a building next door, which also contained illegal apartments.