FDNY Firefighters Hurt at Staten Island Blaze Sue City over Staffing

May 20, 2024
The injured firefighters insist if a nearby ladder company had not been closed, they would have put the fire out sooner.

Four firefighters who nearly perished while battling a windswept inferno on Staten Island last year are suing the city over a staffing policy they say left them shorthanded as the blaze raged out of control.

The injured firefighters insist they could have put out the house fire in Annadale sooner if a nearby ladder company had not been temporarily closed.

But a longstanding FDNY policy of shutting down firehouses for medical checkups made a dangerous situation worse — and nearly cost them their lives, they claim.

“Something that should have been a simple all-hands fire turned into a fourth alarm,” former FDNY Lt. Bill Doody, whose injuries forced him to retire, said at a news conference.

“I was trapped. I relied on my experience and my training to get me out, but I just don’t want this to happen again. It could be another firefighter or civilian with less training who doesn’t stay as calm and it may not work out as well for them. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something to try and stop this.”

Nearly two dozen firefighters were injured in the afternoon fire that broke out on Feb. 17, 2023. Doody and Firefighter William Guidera, both of Ladder Co. 84, and Firefighter Kwabena Brentuo of Engine Co. 168 came very close to dying in the blaze, along with Firefighter John Sarnes.

All four became trapped in the single-family home on Shotwell Ave. near Tryon Ave., according to official accounts and legal filings. They were taken to Staten Island University Hospital North, where Doody recovered for about three weeks.

Ladder Co. 167 was the closest firehouse to the home, but all its personnel were at FDNY headquarters in downtown Brooklyn getting their annual medical exams as mandated by agency policy, according to Andreas Koutsoudakis, a lawyer for the four men.

The lack of support due to the closest ladder company being out of service left the responding firefighters shorthanded, Koutsoudakis claims, jeopardizing lives.

“The response time matters,” Koutsoudakis said. “If something happened with that fire truck that responds, now you’re looking at the next firehouse. That’s the ripple effect that we’ve talked about, but it starts with the one that’s two blocks away not being available. No matter how you slice it, if that firehouse was opened, that fire would have been addressed much sooner.”

FDNY spokeswoman Clare Bourke said the lawsuit — in which the plaintiffs are seeking $20 million each — is under review.

“Firefighters have made countless sacrifices to keep New Yorkers safe, and we are deeply grateful for their efforts,” Bourke said. “After every incident that causes a serious injury, the FDNY conducts a review of the incident to work to improve the safety of all firefighters. Following this incident, FDNY made changes to protocols including a dispatch announcement to fire companies during a wind advisory issued by the National Weather Service and changes to dispatch operations to automatically backfill when a fire company is placed out of service.”

Firefighters dealt with one problem after another that day, starting with the wind that whipped the flames between two houses. One of the engine companies that had been dispatched to the scene got in a crash on the way to the blaze, causing further delays.

Meanwhile, Doody and the others were fighting for their lives.

“There were a few seconds when I was laying there thinking this may be the end,” Doody, 60, said.  “I was working all these years, I’m not going to see a pension. Would have had a nice funeral, though.”

Doody said he was forced to get on his belly to go below the black smoke that filled the upstairs as he crawled to a stairway. After leaping down the stairs and losing his helmet, he found refuge under a couch.

The lieutenant’s feet were literally in the fire as Brentuo trained the single line in the house on the flames to keep him from being overwhelmed.

Lawyer Koutsoudakis said that the rubber from Doody’s boots fused to his feet.

“I knew I could never be full duty again,” said Doody, who says he now struggles even climbing a ladder outside his home to string Christmas lights. “It takes a while for the skin to grow back. My legs were burned, my elbows were burned, my fingers were burned. I had burns on my face, my ears. I was planning on retiring soon, not as soon as I did.”

©2024 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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