Two Indian-American children critically injured in house fire in Queens

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Members of the New York City Fire Department who were involved in the rescue operations for two fires in Queens in the early morning hours of May 11. (Photo: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/fdny/news/)

An Indian-American family is devastated by a house fire in New York City’s Jackson Heights neighborhood, Queens, Friday May 11, which critically injured two children. The New York Fire Department  made daring rescues entering the burning building where Saroj Basra and her family live, according to a New York Daily News report.

According to a report on the FDNY website, two separate fires took place that same early morning in Queens, and in both cases, the smoke detectors were not working.

Shortly after midnight, FDNY received the call for a fire on the second floor of a private dwelling in Jackson Heights, Queens. Engine Company 307 (E-307) and Ladder Company 154 (L-154) were on scene within minutes and began fire operations under heavy fire and smoke conditions, the FDNY says in its report on the official website.

The fire appears to have started after midnight, and was caused by a candle which was left burning as the family went to sleep, according to the Daily News report. Basra, who was sleeping on the first floor woke up to screams and ran outside but could not get back as the fire blazed. Two cousins, Jasmine and Sharon Basra, were rushed to the hospital after being saved by firefighters who went into the burning house, Daily News reported.

“We made our way in, it was a very panicky scene, we went up the stairs, I went to the left and Firefighter Rodriguez went to the right and we found the pediatric patients in the rear,” said Lieutenant Kevin O’Hare, in the FDNY website report. “There was heavy fire, rolling out the door, with lots of smoke.,” O’Hare added.

“Soon as I got to the apartment, there was heavy fire rolling out, I heard screaming from the back bedroom, so I continued past the fire and I made contact with the father of the two pediatric patients and safely removed him, from there, once the smoke started to lift, and with a team effort, we went in and found the two pediatric patients,” said Firefighter Akira Rodriguez of (L-154). “It is heartbreaking to pick up a child, but again we focus on the mission of saving lives, Rodriguez is quoted saying in the FDNY website report.

In a well-coordinated effort, Rescue Company 4 arrived as Firefighter Rodriguez transmitted the code for serious injury. Lieutenant Todd Smith of R-4 and Firefighter Rodriguez coordinated to rescue the young children.

“I made my way to the apartment as Firefighter Rodriguez was making his way out with the patient, I continued the search of that room and found an unresponsive young person,” said Lt. Smith. “I was able to carry them. Both were in respiratory distress, not breathing on their own so we immediately began our interventions. We did our best. When we passed them to EMS, they were breathing on their own,” Lt.Smith said.

A spokesperson for FDNY said the fire was started by a lit candle left inside the puja shrine. In addition, the smoke alarms were not working, Deputy Chief Mark Ferran told the Daily News.

Outside the burning house, the scene was equally dramatic as Saroj Basra yelled out to her sons, 12 and 5 years old, to throw down their mattresses and leap through the window, saving them from burn injuries, Daily News reported.

“I had no other solution … If they didn’t jump, I don’t know what would have happened,” the mother told Daily News. Some residents of the building located on 71st Street and 31st Ave. also used the windows to escape the fire.

“We smelled smoke coming up through the floor and ran out as quick as we could,” one teen is quoted saying, adding, “We were lucky the window was open and we could get through the top (of it) to get down the fire escape.”

A few hours later, there was another fire, this time in Elmhurst, Queens, the FDNY reported.

“At this 2-alarm fire in Elmhurst, there was a very heavy fire condition, you are dealing with structural instability at that point, there were a lot of people living in the building,” said Lt. O’Hare. “I was on the second floor when the stair collapse happened, it could have been worse but thankfully none of our members suffered critical injuries.”After the stairway collapse, Lt. O’Hare discovered and rescued a patient using bedsheets as protection from the fire, the FDNY recounted.

The FDNY urged residents to check their alarm systems. “Overall, you are seeing a very coordinated operation done by our Firefighters who do the rescue and recovery of people who quickly deliver the patients to EMS, who give the life-saving care right on scene,” said Queens Borough Commander Edward Baggott. “This is the reason why people are alive in the city today – it is because of Firefighters and EMS, we have three people alive in the borough of Queens. I encourage all residents in this city to check your smoke detector today; we can prevent these fires and injuries.”

The cause of the 2-alarm fire in Elmhurst, Queens remains under investigation.

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