Officials Probe Cause of Astoria Blaze That Killed Three of New York’s Bravest


Meanwhile, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said that firefighters would have survived the blaze if the buildings basement had had a sprinkler system.
Von Essen said the 128-year-old building had been built before City laws required sprinkler systems. The commissioner said he would like to see changes in such laws for buildings housing hazardous materials.
He said that the company had permits for the hazardous materials it held, including propane, but said some propane was stored underground, which is illegal. Von Essen said the company would likely be fined.
Spencer Gordon, son of shop owner, Randall, said "The whole place is chemicals…Once it goes up, its gone."
Several propane gas manufacturers in the City said the law requires that propane gas tanks must be stored outdoors in individual containers in a caged, fenced off area, reinforced by concrete slabs.
Peter Smith, executive director of the Schenectady-based New York State Propane Gas Assoc., confirmed that outdoor storage of propane gas was required under the law.
One propane supplier said that 10 years ago a similar incident occurred in Brooklyn when improperly stored propane gas tanks in a hardware store exploded.
He noted that propane gas tanks are used for barbeques, fork lifts, torches, roofing and melting jewelry.
A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Peter Vallone said she knew of no plans yet to introduce new legislation to better control containers of propane gas in New York City.
The five-alarm fire claimed the lives of three firefighters, all fathers, on Fathers Day. The victims included John J. Downing, 40, an 11-year veteran assigned to Ladder Company 163 in Queens. Downing, of Port Jefferson Station, is survived by a wife, a seven-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son.
Also dead is Harry Ford, 50, a 27-year veteran with nine bravery commendations. He lived in Long Beach and is survived by his wife, a grown daughter and two sons, 10 and 12. The third victim was Brian Fahey, 46, a 14-year veteran who lived in East Rockaway and is survived by his wife, eight-year-old son and twin boys, 3. He and Ford were assigned to Rescue Co. 4 in Queens.
At press time, a fourth firefighter, Joseph Vosilla, 41, of Astoria, a 10-year veteran, was described as "improving" by an Elmhurst General Hospital spokesperson. She said he is now conscious, but heavily sedated after being crushed by falling debris. She noted Vosilla suffered a crushed pelvis and severe internal injuries, adding that the firefighter had been "downgraded" to critical.
About 50 firefighters were treated at the scene for minor injuries including cuts and smoke inhalation.
Fire Dept. officials said that the Astoria blaze was the deadliest day experienced by the FDNY since three firefighters were killed in a pre-Christmas 1988 high-rise apartment blaze in Canarsie.
City Councilman Sheldon Leffler, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said he was awaiting the fire marshals report on the fire. He said that the Dept. of Environmental Protection should have received reports on storage of propane gas in various businesses."This was a tragic incident," he said.
Leffler also said the Fire Department may need to assure that firefighters meet the physical requirements required in fighting a fire.
Borough President Claire Shulman had this to say about the Fathers Day tragedy in Astoria:
"New York Citys firefighters never flinch when they believe lives are in danger. They will try to do whatever it takes to save youno matter what the risk. We cannot help but be moved when we hear residents talk of how they were evacuated Sunday by firefighters who later died. For this we are tremendously grateful to these men and their families."