NEW YORK ( Associated Press) – The man on the gurney seemed so familiar, but in the hustle and bustle of a big city emergency room, Yusuf Jawara immediately turned his attention to others seeking medical help at St. Barnabas’ Hospital.
After a massive fire broke out in a Bronx apartment building, Jawara, who lives nearby, rushed to the scene and helped people get to the hospital. But as Sunday wore on, his worries about the family grew. Her brother Hagi did not answer the phone. He didn’t even have a sister-in-law.
Then he thought of that brief glance of the man, whose hair and partly masked face resembled that of his brother. It can’t happen, he thought. Surely his brother would have been safe on the 18th floor, away from the fire in the lower 15 floors.
“I was helping EMS take a man to the hospital when I saw him – someone like him – on a stretcher being brought to the ER,” Jawara said on Tuesday. “At the time, I didn’t have the attention to know it was him.”
Jawara’s brother and sister-in-law, Isatou Jabbi, were among 17 people who died trying to escape from a smoke-filled staircase 19 storey tower. Victims of city’s worst fire in more than three decades These include eight children, of whom three are from a family. According to the medical examiner, all of them died of suffocation due to smoke.
Fire officials say a malfunctioning electric space heater started the fire, damaging only a small part of the building. But in a hurry to escape from the unit from which the flames had started, smoke spread across the premises after the tenants fled as the door of the apartment behind them remained open.
Spring-loaded hinges that were supposed to automatically close the door were not working, A second door in an upstairs staircase was also left open, which acted as a flue, sucking the smoke upstairs.
Fire officials in a training publication said a fire in the same apartment building in the mid-1980s produced heavy smoke that rose from floor to floor, but everyone survived because they knew how to stay in their homes.
In a 1986 fire, smoke from burning waste went through a garbage compactor shaft and spread throughout the building, but a recent fire did not cause fatalities as residents mostly stayed until the fire was extinguished, a According to fire officials who wrote about the fire in a training publication called With New York Firefighters, or WNYF.
Those who tried to escape were new to the building and unfamiliar with heightened security procedures, the officer wrote. A woman tried to run down a ladder with her 6-month-old baby, then became confused as she returned to her apartment and sat on the floor of a hallway, the publication said.
At the time of the 1986 fire, the fire official wrote, automatic fire sprinklers in the garbage compactor shaft and in the compactor room were turned off. On one floor a self-closing door to the compactor closet was left open and on the second floor a staircase door was left open to increase air flow.
“The combined effect of bypassing these safety devices contributed to the severity of the subsequent fire,” Deputy Chief James Murtagh wrote in the publication.
The deputy chief blamed “ignorance, carelessness or lack of understanding, with disastrous consequences”.
At the time, according to the publication, each apartment was equipped with a fire-safe, self-closing door and a smoke detector.
Sunday’s fire originated in a third-floor apartment that stemmed from a faulty space heater that is now the subject of investigation by federal safety regulators at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Negro said the front door of the apartment and a door on the 15th floor should have closed automatically and caused smoke, but the doors remained fully open. It was not clear whether the doors failed mechanically or if they were manually disabled.
The deaths over the weekend sparked anguish through the mostly immigrant community in the Bronx.
Officials on Tuesday released the names of 14 victims, including seven children aged between 5 and 12. The oldest death was a 50-year-old woman who shared the same surname with three others.
The medical examiner’s office has started dropping some of the dead into funeral homes.
At least a dozen of those who died offered prayers at the Masjid-ur-Rahma Mosque, where Imam Musa Kabbah is helping the community in mourning.
The imam said, “Things are very slow, but we have to be patient.”
Jawara’s brother fled to the United States in the 1990s as a refugee during the civil war in his homeland, Sierra Leone. He later married a Gambian woman whose family had settled in the Bronx.
“His neighbors on the higher floors never came out and they were safe, so I thought maybe my brother was also safe in the apartment,” he said.
But when her sister-in-law’s cellphone was found on the street, she knew something was wrong.
Among the dead were a five-member Dukureh family – Haja Dukureh and Haji Dukureh, originally from The Gambia and their three children.
“It’s a very close-knit community. We are mainly from a town in the Gambia called Alanghare, so we are all family,” said Haji Dukureh, the uncle of Haja Dukureh, whose husband had the same name. Alive. Uncle moved to the Bronx on Monday from his home in Delaware. “Most people here, we all relate in some way or another.”
Because many people in the building were also members of the same congregation, “it’s like one big family.”
“We just want to keep the dead and put them in their final resting place,” Dukureh said.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak, Jennifer Peltz and news researchers Rhonda Schaffner in New York City and Michael Hill in Albany, New York contributed to this report.