The union representing firefighters who responded to what would become a deadly kitchen blaze at a home in Orange County's city of Newburgh says efforts to rescue a number of trapped people were hampered by a 2.5-gallon water extinguisher.
The local fire department chief also said parked cars at the scene caused a delay.
Wednesday night's fire in a Lander Street home kitchen home claimed the life of a woman who had been trapped on the third floor and critically hurt a man who leaped from a third-floor window as flames engulfed the home. Three firefighters also suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene.
Newburgh firefighters were dispatched to the blaze at 10:48 p.m. Wednesday. At the time, there were reports of people trapped. Within a minute, Truck Company 1, a three-person crew, and a fourth car with an assistant chief, had arrived, the International Association of Firefighters Local 589 said.
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According to the union, that truck company is assigned strictly a rescue role and is equipped only with a 2.5-gallon extinguisher. Lacking a sufficient immediate water source, the union says firefighters tried to get in through the first floor to get to the trapped victims but heavy fire made them pull back.
It was during that time the man jumped from the third-floor window, sustaining critical injuries in the fall as well as injuries from the blaze, IAF Local 589 said. Witnesses reported seeing a woman at the same third-floor window and tried to reach her with a ground ladder, but again, the intensity of the blaze forced a retreat.
Another engine arrived at the scene at 10:53 p.m., five minutes after the initial dispatch. Intense fire suppression efforts were then able to begin, but the union says the blaze had grown "exponentially" by that point -- to the degree where that first responding company had to halt rescue efforts to assist in stabilizing the fire.
Mutual aid from Stewart Air Base arrived at 11:04 p.m., 16 minutes into the fire response, the union said. The fire was knocked down on the first and second floors but by the time rescuers were ready to try to reach the third floor they saw the stairs had burned away, the union said. The woman was dead by the time they found her.
The building was part of a row and the blaze ultimately spread to four other buildings. A third alarm was transmitted around 11:39 p.m., the union said, which would theoretically require triple the response. No additional injuries were reported.
According to IAF Local 589, the delayed arrival of a third engine gave the fire the chance to grow anywhere between six and eight times. Truck Company 1 had been affiliated with Engine Company 1, which often requires overtime to staff primarily because of 2020 layoffs and injuries. Newburgh's city manager closed it in January.
It's not clear if the woman would have been saved had that not been the case, but the union says fire suppression efforts would have begun immediately had the now-shuttered engine company responded along with the rescue truck.
"It is our opinion that applying water immediately would have made an enormous difference in the outcome of this fire," the union said in a statement.
It ultimately took five Newburgh and eight mutual aid companies to control the fire, it added.
The local fire department confirmed the union's account of what happened later Friday. The chief said both the first truck and engine company were dispatched simultaneously but the engine was delayed because it had farther to go -- and was blocked at the scene by parked cars.
He said an engine closer nearby at the department's headquarters was out of service at the time of the fire, which was sparked by cooking oil thrown onto water. Smoke detectors were working, but the fire enveloped the stairs that people would have used to flee so quickly that they could not get out, the chief said.