‘could Have Been a Lot Worse’

Woodhaven Collapse Affects Seniors, EMTs

No one was seriously injured after a building partially collapsed in Woodhaven last Friday, Apr. 12, but the incident caused damage to a nearby building shared by the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Senior Center, forcing both groups to temporarily relocate.

Firefighters sift through the rubble on 79th Street in Woodhaven after the roof of a building caved in last Friday, Apr. 12.

Fire Department sources said the collapse occurred at around 6 p.m. at a two-story building at 78-19 Jamaica Ave., at the corner of 79th Street.

Department of Buildings (DOB) records indicated that a partial vacate order was placed on the site in February 2012 after Fire Department inspectors found “questionable construction methods” were used to support the second-floor roof. In all, the DOB database listed a combined 40 open DOB and Environmental Control Board violations outstanding for the location, which up until recently had a furniture store on the first floor.

Authorities said the roof of the structure suddenly gave way last Friday, causing bricks to rain down onto the 79th Street sidewalk and a parked vehicle, which was totaled as a result.

Though Woodhaven residents and activists were thankful that no one was injured in last Friday’s building collapse (as shown above), they scrambled to assist tht Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Senior Center, which were located next door to the damaged building and displaced by the incident.

Debbie Hoffer of the Woodhaven- Richmond Hill Senior Center, which is operated by Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services, told the Times Newsweekly that the collapse also caused damage to the center and ambulance corps, located next door at 78-15 Jamaica Ave.

The Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Center has space in the rear of the building, while the Woodhaven- Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps has an office and garage in the front. Hoffer said debris from the collapsed, adjacent structure smashed through the senior center’s kitchen and storage rooms; the activity space, however, was not affected.

Except for a shattered front glass door, the ambulance corps’ space did not suffer major damage from the collapse, it was reported.

Responding to the collapse were (in the order of their arrival) Engine companies 293, 294, 236, 285, 303, 286, 233 and 274; Ladder companies 143, 142, 175, 116, 126 and 135; Squad companies 270 and 252; Rescue Units 4 and 2; Battalions 39, 51, 44, 46 and 58; Divisions 13 and 14; the 102nd Precinct and EMS units.

Service was also suspended for a time on the nearby elevated J/Z line between Crescent Street and Jamaica Center due to concerns that vibrations from passing trains could cause further damage.

First responders searched the collapse site as well as the ambulance corps and senior center and found no one with serious injuries. Buildings Department inspectors were called to the location to survey the damage and begin the process of planning to stabilize the collapsed structure.

“It could have been a lot worse,” said Dorie Figliola, a representative Assemblyman Mike Miller. She told the Times Newsweekly in a phone interview on Monday, Apr. 15, that Miller and State Sen. Joseph Addabbo have been in consultation with the Buildings Department since the collapse and are working to assist the ambulance corps and senior center.

In recent days, crews removed the second floor of the vacant building and erected a scaffold around the site to prevent debris from falling onto the sidewalk. Once the structure was considered stable, the ambulance corps was expected to return to operation at its headquarters.

Hoffer, however, stated it may take a while longer for seniors to return to the Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Senior Citizens Center. Through the rest of this week, seniors have been shuttled from a meeting point at the nearby All Nations Baptist Church on 80th Street and 87th Avenue to the Ozone Park Senior Center, located at 103-02 101st Ave.

“Our hope is to get back [to Woodhaven] and operate as close to normal” once the senior center has been deemed safe to reoccupy, Hoffer told this paper in an interview on Monday.

With repairs to the kitchen and storage areas still likely to take several more weeks, activities—including meals—may be limited to the center’s activity space, she added.

The Woodhaven-Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Senior

Center also serve as the regular meeting place of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, which was forced to relocate its next meeting following last Friday’s collapse.

Ed Wendell, president of the WRBA, told the Times Newsweekly the session will take place this Saturday, Apr. 20, at 1 p.m. at Emanuel Church of Christ, located at the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and 91st Avenue. He stated last Friday’s collapse would most likely be a hot topic of conversation among guests.

While “it was just a pure blessing” that there were no injuries related to the episode, Wendell stated it “raised some questions” about the long-term structural integrity of other buildings in the neighborhood, many of which are about 100 years old.

Wendell also questioned whether the DOB needs to be more proactive in inspecting—and, if necessary— vacating buildings considered unsafe.

“A lot of the buildings on Jamaica Avenue are over 100 years old. You wonder how many of them have fallen into some sort of disrepair,” he said. “There was an open violation [on 78-19 Jamaica Ave.] from December which stated that it could collapse. They were aware of it; they knew it was that bad. When the city says it could collapse, what are they going to do about it?”

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