Massive five-alarm blaze in Jackson Heights under investigation

By Bill Parry

The FDNY was still investigating Wednesday the cause of Monday’s massive five-alarm fire in Jackson Heights, which took more than 200 firefighters from 39 units over six hours to bring it under control, the Fire Department said. The Bruson Building at 74-09 37th Ave. remained closed to the public, but some business owners had been escorted inside to retrieve property from shops and offices on the first two floors.

Firefighters from Tower Ladders 107 and 54 were dousing the building Tuesday morning when Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) convened an emergency meeting in his office just half of a block south of the fire zone.

“We had about 16 of the business owners in to meet with representatives of the Small Business Services,” Dromm said. “They provided information on loans and offered recovery services. We’ve been in contact with every owner since. They’ve either seen us or the folks at SBS by now.”

The owner of Frank’s Pharmacy, Frank Buonagurio, was brought into the building to retrieve prescriptions for all of his senior citizen customers. He has been filling the orders at a friend’s pharmacy in Ozone Park and delivering the medicine by himself, Dromm said.

“It’s just devastating to our community,” the councilman said. “We lost our biggest immigrant service provider, Queens Community House; our LGBT senior center; Plaza College and about 50 small businesses.”

Plaza College, a four-year school specializing in medical and business careers, is closed until further notice while administrators search for a temporary location.

The smoke and water damage to Armondo’s Italian Restaurant, a neighborhood favorite, had many observers talking Tuesday morning.

”My parents got engaged in Armondo’s in 1955, so I had to come and take a look,” Kevin Brandt said. “A friend said there was a lot of damage inside. It’s a shame. It’s one of the best restaurants in Jackson Heights.”

Historian Don Donaldson Jr. said the Bruson Building played an important role during the golden years of the neighborhood’s jazz era.

”The Montclair Club was in there when Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor. Everyone played the Montclair Club. Louis Armstrong loved playing there,” Donaldson said. “They shot a movie in there too, a jazz picture starring Henry Fonda called The Wrong Man. It’s a shame that building went up.”

Nine people suffered minor injuries in the fire including seven firefighters and one police officer, the FDNY said.

“Thankfully, there were no fatalities,” Dromm said. “We will rebuild and come back as a better and stronger Jackson Heights.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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