One Senior Dead And Many Others Rescued in Lynbrook Fire
Story & photos by Ex Captain Steven Grogan
April 22nd, 2002
One senior citizen, who’s grandson is a Lynbrook volunteer, was killed, while over 100 others were rescued and safely evacuated by volunteer firefighters and others from a fast moving early morning fire at the Nathan Hale Senior Citizens Housing Complex in Lynbrook. The cause of the fire is under investigation. The fire broke out at approximately 2 AM Monday morning, April 22nd, and it took over 250 firefighters from 14 communities nearly 4 hours to put the fire out. Twenty- three seniors, six volunteer firefighters, and a police officer, were also injured and transported to local hospitals. Two of these senior citizens are believed to be in critical condition.
The woman killed in the blaze was 81 year old Rita Callahan. She is the grandmother of Corey Callahan, Captain of Tally-Ho Engine Company #3 of the Lynbrook Fire Department. Corey ran to the complex after his fire radio went off in his home. He made his way to the fourth floor where his grandmother lived but the heavy smoke and fire kept him and other arriving firefighters and police officers back. Corey then ran back downstairs, put on his turnout gear and began fighting the fire with other Lynbrook volunteers. His grandmother’s body was later recovered in her burnt out apartment.
The Nathan Senior Citizens Housing Complex located on Doxsey Place in Lynbrook has 154 residents in the four-story structure. This is the first fire at the complex since it opened in 1972.
At about 2:09 AM that morning the Lynbrook Fire Department was dispatched to a reported fire on the fourth floor of the complex. The first arriving fire chiefs and volunteer firefighters found the fire already blowing out the windows on the rear fourth floor of the brick structure. As “Signal 10” for a working fire was immediately broadcast to the responding Lynbrook fire trucks. First Deputy Fire Chief John Crowley immediately began broadcasting for a mutual aid response from neighboring communities to send ambulances and manpower as a massive evacuation was begun of the building. As firefighters began to stretch hose lines into the building other firefighters began the task of searching the building and getting all of the residents out. Many residents were found to be hanging out of their windows and six of them had to be taken down by ladder or by the bucket trucks placed up to their windows. One resident who is an amputee was taken out of a window without his artificial leg. Firefighters later went back into his apartment to retrieve his leg so he could get around. Some of the residents even slept through the fire and apartment doors had to be broken down by firefighters to awaken the residents and evacuate them from the burning building.
Lynbrook’s Fire Chief John Obanhein, who only took office less than one week ago, and who is a NYC Police Officer, responded from Brooklyn in his fire chief’s car to take over command of the fire and rescue operation. Chief Obanhein immediately ordered additional ambulances to transport the injured seniors to local hospitals. He also called for additional fire trucks and ladders from neighboring departments. Most of the seniors have problems walking and many either used a walker, cane or wheelchair to get around.
Firefighters who made their way up to the fourth floor were met with a heavy smoke condition and a heavy volume of fire that was spreading in both directions away from the original apartment and consuming other apartments rapidly. Firefighters moving quickly attacked the burning apartments one by one stopping the spread. At one point during the intense heat a portion of the roof collapsed over the burning apartments nearly dropping firefighters on the roof into the inferno below. Luckily the firefighters had gotten off the roof just prior to the collapse.
Five Lynbrook firefighters and one Rockville Centre firefighter were injured fighting the blaze. Most were treated for smoke inhalation while one was treated for a knee injury and the other for being cut by flying glass from one of the apartment windows. One Lynbrook police officer was also treated for smoke inhalation. He was one of the first on the scene and was assisting firefighters in the evacuation on the fire floor, as were other Lynbrook police officers. All were treated and released.
Once all of the seniors were safely evacuated from the burning building, the Lynbrook FD bus and Malverne ‘s fire department bus, as well as the village’s senior bus, transported the seniors to village hall to meet with the Red Cross. They were then later transported to Lynbrook’s Recreation Center at Greis Park where they met with the Red Cross’ Disaster Unit who assisted the seniors in locating housing and getting their proper medication.
The Nassau County Fire Marshal Steve Wenk was at the scene with his team to conduct an investigation into the cause of the fire. The matter is still under investigation but is not considered suspicious. The fire burnt out nine apartments and many others on the floors below were damaged by water. Total damage has been estimated at $4.5 million dollars.
The fast spread of the fire was blamed on the common cockloft area between the fourth floor and the roof. There were no firewalls or stops in the attic area. Once the fire got above the fourth floor ceiling it spread out in both directions engulfing surrounding apartments. There was also no sprinkler system in the building as the building was built before the enactment of the law mandating the system. If the building had a sprinkler system the fire should have been contained to the one apartment.
According to Chief Obanhein, “If it had not been for the quick and aggressive fire attack by the volunteers the fire would have spread throughout the entire complex.”
Chief Obanhein said, “This had the potential to be a major disaster for this community if it had not been for the quick evacuation and rescue of these senior citizens and the quick fire attack by the volunteers. Based on who lived in this complex this fire could have been much worse and we could have had many more fatalities. Lynbrook volunteers could not have done this without the help of our neighboring departments who gave us a hand in the evacuation, transporting the injured, as well as fighting the fire. My thanks go out to them for their help.”
Fire Departments who came to Lynbrook to help were East Rockaway, Rockville Centre, Malverne, Lakeview, Valley Stream, Hewlett, Lawrence-Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Inwood, Meadowmere Park, West Hempstead, Elmont, Oceanside and Baldwin.
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