Anatomy of a Fall
(1) Firefighters Curt Meyran, Gene Stolowski, Brendan Cawley, and John Bellew, all from FDNY Ladder 27, arrive at 236 East 178th Street in the Bronx at approximately 8:05 a.m. on Sunday, January 23, 2005. Firefighters Jeff Cool and Joe DiBernardo, from the FDNY’s Rescue 3 unit, arrive soon after that.
(2) With firefighters from other companies already battling the blaze on the third floor, the main site of the fire, Meyran, Stolowski, Cawley, Bellew, Cool, and DiBernardo are sent to the fourth floor to clear it and prevent the fire from spreading. The six men case the area, but their efforts are made difficult by dense smoke and the mazelike structure of the chopped-up tenement building. Because of problems with a hydrant and other equipment, the men are also operating without working hoses.
(3) A burst of fire erupts through the third floor, trapping the six firefighters in Apartment 4-L. Their attempts to find a safe way out are thwarted by an illegal partition wall (in red, above) that hampers their efforts to find a fire escape.
(4) With the flames inches from their backs, the six men are forced to jump from four windows—a 50-foot drop. Meyran and Bellew die from the fall. They are survived by their wives and seven children, ranging in age from 5 months to 16 years old. The four other men suffer multiple critical injuries, are left with permanent disabilities, and are forced to retire from duty. The four survivors and two widows later sue the city for not supplying the firefighters with personal-safety ropes. Pinning the blame on the partition walls, the Bronx district attorney charges the building’s landlord and two tenants with manslaughter, criminal negligence, and reckless endangerment. Both legal actions are ongoing.