4 Die in Hi-Rise Horror

With the memory of 3 fire fighter's funerals fresh in their minds, NYC's Bravest were called upon yet again to battle a 4 alarm hi-rise fire in the posh Upper West Side of Manhattan. This time, 4 civilians bore the brunt of the Red Devil's fury.

Shortly before 1000 hours, Wednesday December 23, 1998, the Manhattan C.O. received a call from the panic stricken resident of apartment 19-D at 124 West 60 Street. The caller, Patricia Brentrup and mother of actor Macaulay Culkin, stated an electric heater caught fire and spread to the couch. She and the family maid awoke the sleeping children and fled the apartment. Sadly, the front door was left propped open.

In a virtual repeat of the fire that killed 3 fire fighters 5 days prior, the hallway and stairwell were converted into a 2000-degree smokestack. Within minutes fire was showing through the 19th floor apartment's windows; clouds of black smoke billowed up along the buildings 51-story facade. Unlike the fire on Vandalia Avenue, this building was not required to have sprinklers in the hallways, only a firehose and standpipe in the stairwell.

Many residents on the upper floors were lucky in their attempt to leave the building. They took the stairway early enough to avoid being disabled by smoke and heat. But for 4 others the timing just wasn't right. Between the 27th and 29th floor, 4 people died of smoke inhalation.

Some residents didn't make it out of their apartments in time and they were forced to stay inside. As heat and smoke increased they fled to their terraces in the frigid air. This was the best course of action.

In NYC all buildings over 75 feet in height must be "fireproof." The term is misleading. It does not refer to the contents of the building, only the structure itself. In optimum conditions a fire will not spread beyond an apartment or compartment provided of course that the doors are closed. That was not the case in this, or the Vandalia Avenue fire.

"Stay in your apartment," was the only advice we could give the callers. Some did. But there's no telling how one will react in a life-threatening situation.