What to Know
- A massive blaze destroyed a Rockland County nursing home, killing one resident and leaving one firefighter missing
- The facility said it had 112 residents living there at the time of the fire, and have accounted for all of them
- Investigators still don't have a cause for the blaze, which was intense enough to cause parts of the building to collapse
Massive flames broke out Tuesday at a Rockland County assisted living facility, killing one of its residents, and authorities say one firefighter is missing.
The missing firefighter made a "mayday" call, but other first responders were not able to get to him due to the intensity of the blaze, Rockland County fire and emergency director Chris Kear told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
"We've got to start pulling it back, and peeling it layer by layer, and hopefully he'll be recovered," Kear said, adding that a mini-excavator was on scene assisting with debris removal. The missing firefighter, a volunteer who was one of the first to arrive, was on the third floor in a section of the building that collapsed.
Nearly 24 hours later, that firefighter has still not been found. A search crew with a rescue dog were brought in in an attempt to find the missing firefighter.
Authorities say the fire at Evergreen Court Home for Adults on Lafayette Street in Spring Valley started around 1 a.m., and they raged for more than 12 hours. A small but resilient flame still burned on the backside of the building Tuesday night as crews continued to demolish the rest of the structures.
One person who was transported to the hospital died, according to the fire department.
"There was just people pouring out of the building. Police officers, firemen helping people out, carrying people out. Going back in and getting more people," said Kear. "It's one of your worst nightmares."
Between 20 and 30 residents in the 200-bed facility were rescued, though authorities still don't know for sure how many people were actually in the building when the fire broke out. The facility said all 112 residents living there who survived the inferno have been accounted for, and have placed them in a new home.
Volunteers with the Chaverim of Rockland were also able to get a number of residents into a bus to be evacuated to another facility, according to witness Benny Polatseck. Kear confirmed that more than 100 firefighters from 26 different companies responded.
Two other firefighters suffered injuries, officials said, but it appears they're expected to recover. One was treated and released, but another will be kept overnight for smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide exposure.
It's still unclear what started the fire but the flames were so destructive that they collapsed the second floor of the nursing home. The fire department later said the building is a total loss.
According to Rockland County officials, smoke detector and sprinkler reports, which are not directly overseen by the Health Department but which were reviewed, were found in compliance by rcdoh when checked last in December 2019.
Denise Kerr, Director of the Evergreen Court Home for Adults, called the fire "an unspeakable tragedy," adding that home officials are cooperating with all state and local authorities as the investigation into the blaze continues, and they have launched their own internal investigation as well.
“Our staff was truly heroic in evacuating residents who were inside the building as the fire spread, and we are forever grateful to the first responders whose actions undoubtedly saved lives. All 112 residents at Evergreen Court Home are accounted for and have been placed in a new home. We are currently in the process of contacting their families. Anyone who wishes to reach us to inquire about a family member can call 973-378-1997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Kerr said in a later statement the center was inspected multiple times by the Department of Health and local authorities in 2020, and no citations or violations related to fire safety were found.
Local, county and state officials have shared their thoughts and prayers in connection to the deadly blaze that completely gutted the adult home.
In a statement, Rockland County Legislator Toney L. Earl addressed the devastating fire At Evergreen Court Home For Adults
“The actions taken by firefighters, police officers, paramedics, ambulance crews, and every single person who responded were heroic, selfless, and loving," his statement read in part.
“I’m so thankful that so many were saved, and I pray that all of those who were injured recover quickly and fully and do not endure much pain," his statement continued. "While I am grateful today, my joy is small because one of Spring Valley Fire Department’s own is missing. I ask everyone to keep this firefighter in their prayers."
On Tuesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the State Department of Health, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, and State Police to assist the Spring Valley Fire and Police Departments and Rockland County Sheriff's Office.
"The overnight fire at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley in Rockland County is deeply alarming and earlier this morning I directed state agencies to assist in the emergency response," Cuomo said.
Rep. Mondaire Jones said he was horrified to learn of the fire in his hometown of Spring Valley.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of a resident of the Evergreen facility, and I am praying that the firefighter who bravely risked his life to save dozens of individuals trapped inside will be found safe and alive,” the first-term Democrat said in a statement.