Chief-Leader
March 17, 2014


Mayor Praises First-Responders For Post-Blast Efforts in Tough Conditions

High Winds Kept Fires Raging

First Responders 'Keep Fighting'

The Chief-Leader/Michel Friangp
Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, at podium, told reporters March 13 that the exact cause of a massive explosion that collapsed two apartment buildings in East Harlem last week couldn’t be determined until the fires were put out and debris was cleared away. Police Commissioner William Bratton, left, and Mayor de Blasio praised the hundreds of first-responders who continued searching for survivors long after the tragedy.

By SARAH DORSEY

Firefighters and other first-responders continued to work at the smoldering site of last week’s explosion in East Harlem March 13 as Mayor de Blasio at a press conference at City Hall praised their swiftness and tenacity in addressing the tragedy.

Two apartment buildings on Park Ave. near 116th St. collapsed on the morning of March 12 after a suspected gas leak fueled an explosion so powerful that its tremors were felt a mile away.

Winds Compounded Problem

That night, a powerful cold spell swept into town accompanied by strong winds, which helped keep fires burning in the wreckage throughout the following day, the Mayor said. Other blazes continued in between the collapsed floors of the two buildings, at 1644 and 1646 Park Ave. Eight deaths have since been confirmed and several people are still reported missing; more than two dozen others were injured.

Mr. de Blasio praised the FDNY’s two-minute response time and the work of the roughly 250 firefighters from 44 companies who answered the call. Emergency Medical Service personnel transported some 40 victims to the hospital and police also conducted search-and-rescue efforts. The next day, hundreds of first-responders remained to clear away debris, extinguish flames and search for survivors.

“They’ve been fighting through the cold, they’ve been fighting through the wind, exceedingly difficult circumstances and they have stuck with it,” Mr. de Blasio said. “As you know, the wreckage is still smoldering; at various points, the fire got whipped up a little bit again by the wind. And despite all that, our first-responders from the FDNY, from EMS, from the NYPD, all the agencies involved continue to do so consistently what they always do no matter what is thrown at them. They keep fighting. And they’ve done an exemplary job.

“This city is no stranger to adversity, and our first-responders exemplify what’s best about New York City, that we somehow persevere despite everything thrown at us and their training, their professionalism came out so clearly in this last 26 hours,” he continued. “We’re entirely grateful for that.”

Fire Marshals, along with the NYPD’s Arson and Explosives Unit and the National Transportation Safety Board, had begun investigating the cause of the blast, but Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano warned that before any definitive conclusions could be made, the debris had to be removed, especially from the basement of 1644 Park Ave., where it is believed the blast originated.

Both the FDNY and the Police Department reviewed their emergency calls from the area over the preceding days and weeks and found no prior warnings of problems with the gas pipes. Con Edison CEO John McAvoy said his company had received word of only minor issues in the past three years. A call to the gas and electric company finally came less than 20 minutes before the explosion, though several nearby residents later reported having smelled gas the previous night.