Legislator calls for action against unlicensed day cares, illegal e-bikes, following Kew Gardens Hills house fire

Councilman James Gennaro is calling for action after a fire at an illegal daycare facility in a Kew Gardens Hills home. (Photo courtesy of FDNY)

A Queens councilman is calling for a crackdown on illegal day care operations after 18 children were injured, one of them critically, during a Kew Gardens Hills house fire on the afternoon of Jan. 25.

The blaze broke out in the basement of a two-story home, located at 147-07 72nd Dr., at about 2:06 p.m. An inspection by the Department of Building determined that an unlicensed child care center and a dental lab were located in the converted basement. Fire marshals determined that the fire was started by the explosion of a lithium-ion battery on an e-bike that was charging inside the house.

“Yesterday, 18 children were injured — including one critically — after a fire broke out in an illegal daycare in my district. A child was critically injured in what was a completely avoidable tragedy — not only because this day care facility had no business operating in the first place, but also because, yet again, a dangerous e-scooter was to blame,” Councilman James Gennaro said Thursday. “And let me state most emphatically that I will do everything in my power to crack down on illegal day care centers in my district.”

Fire marshals also blamed an e-bike for a fatal two-alarm house fire in East Elmhurst on the night of Friday, Jan. 20. Modesto Collado, 63, was found in a second-story bedroom and EMS rushed him to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead. Six other civilians were injured and four FDNY firefighters were treated for minor injuries after a staircase collapsed.

“The city rushed to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters in 2020 before my return to the Council without the proper regulations in place,” Gennaro said. “Last year, six New Yorkers died in fires caused by these types of batteries, and another 216 fires were connected to them. That is completely unacceptable. It is obvious these e-bikes and e-scooters pose a clear and present fire danger. That is why the Council has legislation drafted and under discussion to comprehensively regulate or ban these hazardous vehicles.”

Just a day before the East Elmhurst fatal blaze, Councilman Robert Holden introduced legislation that would repeal city regulations that allow e-bikes and e-scooters to be driven throughout the five boroughs. Holden wants the ban imposed until state lawmakers pass legislation that would require the vehicles to be registered, licensed and insured.

“The scourge of these devices throughout our city has led to people disregarding traffic laws resulting in injuries or death, lithium ion-based fires that killed several people and injured hundreds, and a feeling of disorder on our streets and sidewalks as well as a diminished quality of life,” Holden said.

Meanwhile, Gennaro is calling for the Department of Buildings to step up enforcement on illegal home conversions into commercial spaces like the home in Kew Gardens Hills.

“This building had another illegal enterprise in it besides the daycare center. This is completely unacceptable,” Gennaro said. “The law is the law. The safety of our children is too precious to accept the risk posed by unlicensed and uninspected facilities. There is a reason the city has building requirements for daycare facilities, and that is to ensure that they are safe. I call upon anyone who knows of an illegal daycare facility in the 24th Council District to report it to my office and we will take immediate action.”

Gennaro added that anyone with information can call his district office in Fresh Meadows at 718-217-4969.

“My prayers are with the victims of this tragedy and their families,” Gennaro said. “I am wishing all the children a speedy recovery, especially the child in critical condition.”