FDNY prevents disaster in East Elmhurst by seizing 68 illegally stored propane tanks

FDNY fire inspectors discovered a stockpile of illegally stored propane tanks at an East Elmhurst home that posed a threat to public safety near the Korean Church of Queens.
Photo courtesy of FDNY EMS Local 2507

For the second time in four months, FDNY fire inspectors averted a potential catastrophe in East Elmhurst after finding stockpiles of illegally stored propane tanks in the residential neighborhood.

Fire inspectors from the Special Investigation Unit received a complaint of illegal occupancy at a home just south of LaGuardia Airport at 23-57 89th St. They discovered 68 propane cylinders, which they seized along with five food trucks and a box truck parked on the property last week. The inspectors also found illegal single-room-occupancy in the home’s cellar.

Photo courtesy of FDNY EMS Local 2507

Darryl Chalmers, a retired deputy chief inspector and an FDNY EMS Local 2507 board member, said the stockpile definitely posed a threat to the neighbors. “There’s no question this could have been a catastrophe, without a doubt in my mind,” Chalmers said. “The issue here is one 20-pound cylinder can take out a building or a residential house, 68 tanks could take out two city blocks. Was it close enough to LaGuardia Airport to pose a threat? I don’t think so, but it was right next to a church and a children’s playground.”

Photo courtesy of FDNY EMS Local 2507

He added that the propane tanks were stored near the food trucks and extension cords and electrical panels were near the cylinders.

“Oh, my goodness. Propane can be very, very dangerous,” Chalmers said. “I never use propane for barbecues because I know how dangerous it can be when a propane tank leaks. I only use charcoal when I barbecue.”

The FDNY called in inspectors from the city’s Department of Buildings, and they determined that the legal 3-story, 3-family dwelling was converted to a 5-family dwelling with two single-resident occupancy apartments in the cellar. The apartments contained beds and doors with locking devices, and one unit had no windows. Inspectors issued a vacate order for the entire cellar and two violations to the building owner for illegal conversion and work without a permit.

One person was arrested but an NYPD spokeswoman could not say if he was the property owner or a tenant. He was also cited for violations of electrical hazards and unlawful quantity of hazardous/combustible materials.

The seizure comes just over four months after a larger stockpile was discovered by fire inspectors from the Special Investigations Unit closer to Citi Field at 32-49 104th St. in East Elmhurst. The inspectors were acting on a tip from a resident on the block who smelled gas when they recovered 236 propane tanks, half of them were leaking gas which could have caused a massive blast.

“These fire inspectors are on the front lines in the battle against lithium-ion batteries that pose such a threat, but illegal storage of hazardous and combustible materials like propane tanks poses a major threat across the city. The main job of fire inspectors is to ensure the public is safe, but they also make sure that it’s safe for firefighting operations.” Chalmers said.