The six firefighters were trapped by the blaze and forced to jump for their lives from a fourth-floor window in this Bronx building.
Photo credit: G.N. Miller/New York Post
January 24, 2005 -- Three hero firefighters perished in blazes in The Bronx and Brooklyn yesterday - including two who were forced to choose between jumping for their lives or burning to death after giving up their hose to colleagues on the floor below.
As flames closed in, Lt. Curtis Meyran and firefighter John Bellew - who had a total of seven children - made the desperate decision to leap 50 feet from the fourth floor of a burning building at 236 E. 178th St. in the Morris Heights section of The Bronx.
Meyran, 46, a 15-year FDNY veteran, and Bellew, 37, a 10-year veteran died, and four others who also jumped were badly injured.
The Post learned they were ordered to give their hose to firefighters battling the main blaze on the third floor after an erroneous report that their hose burst.
Three hours after the tragedy, Brooklyn firefighter Richard Sclafani, 37, of Ladder Co. 103, died after getting trapped in the basement while fighting a blaze in an East New York home.
Excluding 9/11, it was the blackest day for the FDNY since three firefighters died battling a five-alarm Father's Day blaze at an Astoria hardware store June 17, 2001.
And it was a cruel first for the department.
"We all have between 30 and 40 years' experience in this job and none of us can remember a day when we had fire fatalities at two separate incidents," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
Mayor Bloomberg said, "No words can comfort the families who have lost these brave and courageous fathers and husbands.
"But I can tell you this city will not forget these brave men."
And Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said, "Today is an extremely sad day in the history of the department. Our hearts go out to the families of the firefighters who lost their lives."
The Bronx fire broke out at 7:59 a.m. after sparks from an overloaded electrical socket set a mattress ablaze in a rear third-floor apartment.
The fire quickly went to three alarms in the 17-degree cold.
As firefighters battled the third-floor flames with one hose, a backup team with a separate hose went to the fourth floor to check reports of people trapped there.
Meyran, a father of three assigned to Battalion 26, led the way upstairs.
As the firefighters were searching for possible victims, there was a report that part of the third-floor hose had burst, and the men on the fourth floor were ordered to give their hose to the firefighters on the floor below, FDNY sources said.
Just after ill-fated men gave up their hose, tragedy struck. The fire burned through the third-floor ceiling, trapping the six men who remained on the fourth.
They couldn't get to a window where there was a fire escape because it was blocked by partitions used to add more bedrooms to the apartment.
So they had to make a terrible choice: jump or die immediately.
"When the fire from the third floor broke through to the fourth, they were faced with the horrifying choice of either jumping from the fourth-floor window or being burned to death," Bloomberg said.
"They jumped knowing they would be critically injured."
One firefighter tied his personal rope to a window and began to slide down, but the rope broke.
Meyran, who had been decorated twice for bravery, died shortly after 9 a.m.
Bellew, a father of four assigned to Ladder Co. 27, died at about 1 p.m.
"He fought hard to live but his injuries were too severe to be overcome," the mayor said.
Three of the injured firefighters were rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital. Eugene Stolowski of Ladder 27 was in critical condition; Jeffrey Cool of Rescue 3 was in critical but stable condition; and Brendan Cawley of Ladder 27 was in serious condition.
Joseph DiBernardo of Rescue 3 was in serious condition at Jacobi Hospital.
Cawley's brother, Michael, a firefighter with Ladder 136 in Queens, died at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Cool, who lost a firefighting buddy on 9/11, is due to get a medal in June for rescuing a man from a burning building while dangling from a rope.
Meyran joined the department in November 1989 and was cited for bravery while working at Ladder 161 in 1991 and Ladder 123 in 1997.
His wife, Jeanette, said her husband loved his job and his three children, Dennis, 16, Angela, 10, and Dineen, 5.
"My husband was one who would put other people's safety before his own," she said. "We're going to be lost without him."
Meyran's brother, Glenn, said the family was overcome with grief. "But you know when you take this job there's a risk to it, and he knew that, too," the heartsick brother said.
Bellew joined the FDNY in July 1994 and worked previously at Ladder 10 and Engine Co. 23.
He is survived by his wife, Eileen, two daughters, Brielle, 6, and Katreana, 2, and two sons, Jack, 2, and Kieran, 4 months.
"His youngest will never know his dad. He will only know him through photos and stories," his brother, Danny, said sadly.
The blaze broke out in the bedroom of Rolando Escalera, 47, who lived in Apartment 3-I in the rear of the building.
It was caused by sparks from a socket into which an extension cord had been plugged to provide electricity for other bedrooms, FDNY sources said.
"I heard a whoosh and flames shot out of the socket and set my mattress on fire," Escalera said.
"I tried to put it out . . . I threw a pot of water on it and it didn't help. It just got bigger. The flames were shooting 3 feet high."
Investigators plan to quiz the building's owner, who lives in Connecticut, and the super about the partitions.
- Tragic Bond of New York Brothers
- Three FDNY Bravest Lost in Blazes in Brooklyn and Bronx
- Water Pressure Fails, and a Routine Tactic Turns Deadly in the Bronx
- Stunned Words of Grief in Firehouses, and at Homes
- Three Firefighters Dead, Four Critical in Bronx, Brooklyn Blazes
- Two Firefighters Killed Battling Apartment Blaze In The Bronx
- Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta Announce the Death of Fire Lieutenant Curtis W. Meyran and Firefighter John G. Bellew
- Brooklyn Two-Alarmer Claims Life of 10-Year FDNY Veteran