Two of boro’s Bravest die in fires

By Sophia Chang

Bay Terrace resident and Astoria native Richard Sclafani, 37, was a 10-year veteran of Ladder 103 in Brooklyn, the Fire Department said. Sclafani was overcome by smoke and fire in a stairwell Sunday afternoon while he searched a basement after a two-alarm fire broke out in East New York, according to the FDNY. John Bellew, a 37-year-old native of Howard Beach and 1985 graduate of Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood, was one of two Ladder Company 27 firefighters killed after they were forced to jump out of a Bronx apartment building during a three-alarm fire that trapped them on the fourth floor, the Fire Department said. Lt. Curtis Meyran of Long Island was also killed from injuries sustained from the fall, authorities said.Ladder Company 27 Firefighter Brendan Cawley, who grew up in Flushing and also graduated from Archbishop Molloy in 1992, was one of four firemen injured from leaping out of the building's windows during the Bronx fire, authorities said. He was in critical condition at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. Fire officials said a preliminary investigation revealed the Brooklyn fire started from flammable materials ignited by an electric space heater in the basement.During the Brooklyn fire on Sunday afternoon, Sclafani had entered the basement with other firefighters and was separated from them during the search, FDNY said. He was found in the basement staircase unconscious and in respiratory arrest, and died at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn, fire officials said. “When we got (to the hospital) there was a sea of firemen with sad faces, and I knew my son wasn't alive anymore,” said his mother, Joan Sclafani, in a telephone interview. “They all came in single file in a very long line into the room. Some were totally covered with black soot because they were with him at the fire. They smelled of smoke and they came by and were crying.”Described as a quiet, friendly tenant, Sclafani had lived in his Bay Terrace ground-floor apartment for about four years, neighbor Tom Zuvic said.”He was too young,” Zuvic said while shoveling his sidewalk Monday. “He would say to me he loved his job. He would say hello to everybody.”A bouquet of brown flowers, left on a chair outside of Sclafani's home, lay wilting in the cold.The Bronx fire broke out Sunday morning due to an overheated extension cord, fire officials said. Bellew and Cawley were among the 150 firefighters who responded to the call. The six firefighters were searching the fourth floor for reported trapped residents, and jumped from a fourth floor window after they became trapped above the fire on the third floor, the Fire Department said. Fire officials were still investigating the blaze, including possible illegal alterations to the fourth-floor apartment that may have prevented the firefighters from gaining access to the fire escape to leave the building safely. The possible loss of water in one hoseline that may have contributed to the fire escalating onto the fourth floor was also being looked at.In addition, the FDNY said it was reviewing the possibility of providing safety ropes to each firefighter, a policy once mandated by the department but discontinued in 2000 due to the weight and bulkiness of the equipment. Fire officials said there were ropes on the roof of the Bronx building. One firefighter had descended on a rope to try to reach the trapped men, but “by the time he got into position it was too late,” according the Fire Department.Firefighters Joseph DiBernardo and Jeffrey Cool of Rescue 3 and Eugene Stolowski of Ladder 27 were also seriously injured leaping from the apartment building. Bellew had served as a firefighter for 10 years, and lived in Pearl River, N.Y. with his wife and children, according to the Fire Department.According to Archbishop Molloy school officials, Bellew grew up in Howard Beach. His family, reached at home, declined to comment.”This is a tremendous tragedy for their families, the NYFD and the Molloy community,” said Molloy President John Sherry in a statement. “The sacrifices which these Stanners have made are incredible and are witness to their faith and dedication.”Cawley's brother, Michael, also a firefighter, died while on duty during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Cawley remained in critical condition as of Tuesday. The day's death toll made it the single deadliest day for the Fire Department since the World Trade Center attacks, which took the lives of 343 firefighters.”Sadly, these dual tragedies serve as a reminder to New York of the extreme dangers firefighters face,” said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy. “New York's bravest continually make sacrifices for New York and New Yorkers and always have and will always be there when this city needs them most.”Sclafani is survived by his mother Joan and sister JoAnn. Bellew is survived by his wife, Eileen, their daughters Brielle and Katreana and sons Jack and Kieran.Sclafani's wake was scheduled for Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Colonial Funeral Home, 2819 Hylan Blvd. at Tysen's Lane, Staten Island. His funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, located at Hugenot Road and Amboy Road in Staten Island.Bellew's funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Margaret's of Antioch RC Church at 115 West Central Ave. in Pearl River, NY. Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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