5-5-5-5 7 Days Before Xmas 1998

Early Friday morning December 18, 1998, tragedy struck the NYC Fire Department for the 3rd time this year. A mere 7 days before Christmas the Red Devil claimed the lives of 3 fire fighters.

At 0454 hours Brooklyn transmitted box 4080 for a top floor fire at 17 Vandalia Avenue in the Starrett City development complex. The sprawling complex is located on Brooklyn's south shore in the Spring Creek section. The 10 story 50 x 200 fireproof building is used as a senior citizen's residence.

Engine 257 and ladder 170, both quartered in Canarsie, were assigned 1st due and arrived within 4 minutes. By that time the fire already could be seen blowing through two windows. Second and 3rd alarms were quickly transmitted.

As the 1st due ladder company, L170's duty is to search the fire floor. Lieutenant Joseph Cavalieri, and fire fighters Christopher Bopp and James Bohan ascended 10 flights of stairs with extinguishers and forcible entry tools. Their mission was to rescue the resident of apartment 10-D who was believed trapped inside.

Fortunately for the elderly resident she escaped shortly before the forcible entry team arrived. Unfortunately for them, she left the apartment door wide open. The additional oxygen from the hallway fed the inferno within and blew out the windows. The halls were equipped with sprinklers but for reasons unknown to anyone is why they were deactivated.

As the Lieutenant and fire fighters arrived at the door, a sudden change in the wind direction forced an estimated 29-MPH wind gust into the apartment, and a 2,000 degree fireball into the hallway. The 3 men only had enough time to get a Mayday out. The high heat instantly asphyxiated them and burned their masks off of them. Despite the best efforts of the rescue team and EMS, all 3 were pronounced dead at the hospital. Also injured in the fire were 6 other fire fighters and 4 residents. All but 1 are in stable condition at various hospitals. The most severely injured civilian, the occupant of the fire apartment, is in the hyperbaric unit in Jacoby Hospital in critical condition.

Lieutenant Cavalieri, 42, a resident of Malverne Long Island, is a 15-year veteran and leaves behind a wife and 2 teenaged daughters. Fire fighter Bopp, 27, a Brooklyn native, leaves behind a wife in her 3rd month of pregnancy. Fire fighter Bohan, 25, lived with his parents in Middle Village Queens and had an older brother.

This fire is being called the worst since the Waldbaums fire of August 2, 1978, in which 6 fire fighters lost their lives. This brings the total of fire fighters killed in the line of duty to 770. The cause of the blaze was careless smoking.

On August 2, 1999, NIOSH publicized findings after their investigation into the fire. Click here to see their report.