The executive team and nursing staff at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway on April 4 broke ground on a project that will rebuild the 11th floor that was completely destroyed during a devastating two-alarm fire on Sept. 10, 2021.
Staff on the floor had to be relocated to other areas of the hospital following the blaze and, a year-and-a-half later, plans are in motion to rebuild with a new, state-of-the-art patient floor.
“We’ve waited for this for a long time,” St. John’s Episcopal Hospital CEO Gerard Walsh said. “If anything good came out of the fire, it’s going to be a state-of-the-art, brand new nursing unit with all the bells and whistles and it will be beautiful when it’s done and we’re all excited about that happening.”
The blaze began on the roof of the hospital and it devastated the 11th floor and caused damage on the 10th patient floor. Some of the hospital’s staff and patients sheltered in place, while some were evacuated outside the hospital as FDNY personnel worked to extinguish the flames. The fire was brought under control about two hours after it broke out.
Nurse Monique Adams worked on the 11th floor during the fire. The April 4 groundbreaking ceremony was her first time back on the floor.
“It’s different, it’s very different. The fire left us all devastated,” Adams said. “We felt like we were, or are still, in a tunnel and wherever we turned we just couldn’t get out.”
The nurses on the floor formed a group chat to keep co-workers who worked on the floor connected as they were spread out to different units at the hospital. Adams said the groundbreaking is the light at the end of that tunnel.
“It is the beginning for us and we are grateful to everyone who put their two cents in to get this together and to plan to make it happen for us,” Adams said.
Adams added that the whole team would come back to the unit when it opens. When it does, the hospital will provide the latest equipment and technologies to better serve the patients on the 11th floor.
“We’re just excited that this is happening today,” Walsh said. “We couldn’t be more grateful.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.