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Elmhurst resident dies in East Village collapse

By Bill Parry

An Elmhurst resident was the second of two fatal victims pulled from the rubble of the East Village gas explosion Sunday.

Moises Locon, 27, who worked as a busboy at Sushi Park,was positively identified by the city medical examiner’s office Wednesday through the use of DNA evidence. His family has been notified, according to city officials..

Locon worked in New York City for the last seven years, saving up money to return to his native Guatemala to be with his longtime girlfriend, his cousin and roommate, Pablo Yac, told The New York Times.

Nelson Figueroa, 23, of Washington Heights, was the other person to die in the collapse.

An “inappropriately” tapped gas line in the basement of Sushi Park likely caused the explosion last week, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. A total of 25 people were injured in the catastrophic blaze and collapse that followed among the injured were five firefighters, although none of injuries were considered serious, according to the FDNY.

More than 250 firefighters, EMTs and paramedics responded during the rare seven-alarm turnout. At the Woodhaven fire March 18, over 165 FDNY members responded and two were injured when a row of eight homes were significantly damaged. In the two weeks since several Queens elected officials have stepped forward in a campaign that began with a March 16 rally on the steps of City Hall to show they stand in support of over 1,400 newly hired FDNY firefighters who lack disability protection.

Advocates say that should they be burned, seriously injured or paralyzed on the job, the disability protection for a probationary firefighter equals only about $10,000 per year, or $27 per day. The disparity began with former Gov. David Paterson reducing disability for firefighters hired after July 2009.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) spoke to over 350 firefighters at the rally saying, “This administration says it cares about fairness, but what is fair about $27 a day for New York’s Bravest if they get hurt while risking their lives? Every firefighter is taking the same risk, and every firefighter deserves the assurance that their families will be provided for should anything happen on the job. We can not allow the city to cut corners when it comes to fundamental public safety.”

Carlos Azevedo, a probationary firefighter assigned to Engine 316 in Elmhurst, said, “The two-tier system doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense to be across the table from another firefighter, knowing his family will be taken care of if something happens, and knowing that your family is not going to get the same protection if something happens. It just doesn’t add up for the job that we do. Would you put your life on the line for $27 a day?”

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) evoked memories of the 9/11 attacks at the rally. “Could you imagine standing here in the shadow of the old World Trade Center talking about cutting firefighters’ disability benefits, about having two tiers for disability benefits? It would be unthinkable and it really is unconscionable.”

All five borough presidents agreed that legislation is urgently needed to address the disparity.

“It is time to restore fundamental fairness and dignity to our disability benefits system,” Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said. “It’s the least we can do for the members of the uniformed services who run into harm’s way while others run out.”

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

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