West Side Rag »Two were sent to the hospital Thursday after the space heater caught fire, residents say; Locals gather to help

Posted on Jan 14, 2022 at 8:48 pm by West Sider

WSUR brownstone at 15 W. 90th St.

By Joy Bergman

Two residents of 15 W. 90th Street relocated to Mount Sinai Morningside [St. Luke’s] hospital after FDNY units responded to a “smoke situation” Thursday around 12:50 p.m., FDNY officials and tenants told WSR.

The building is part of NYCHA WSUR Brownstones. Cynthia Tibbs, president of the WSUR Brownstones Tenants Association, was one of the injured.

WSR spoke with Tibbs and two other building sources. The three alleged that the incident started when an electric heater caught fire in an elderly man’s apartment on the second floor. [FDNY’s press office would only say the cause is “under investigation.”]

Tepes said the apartment was already well heated. Tepes alleged that the man told her he was using a space heater to help dry some of the walls he was washing to tackle the mold problem.

“The heater was on the floor,” said Tepes, remembering the conversation. He got the fire extinguisher. But when he pulled the pin, nothing came out. He panicked and threw in a wet towel. [the heater], causing it to explode. Do not spray water on electrical fires.” [More on that from FDNY below.]

Black smoke quickly filled the man’s apartment and traveled to the third floor unit in Tebes. “There was a lot of smoke, and I couldn’t see,” Tibbs says. “It invaded my entire apartment.” She said the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in her unit went off, but only after she was already struggling to leave the apartment with her 34-year-old son.

Tibbs explained that the building’s stairs do not have their own smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. It is working with NYCHA to change this and feels that such reagents will sooner alert residents to hazardous conditions.

Tepes says she has experienced smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, as has her son. He refused to be taken to hospital, but Tebes, who has asthma and mobility problems, stayed overnight for treatment. She added that the elderly man was also treated in hospital and was released.

Soot-painted walls following a fire at 15 W. 90th St. (Courtesy of Cynthia Tibbs).

From the moment word broke about the accident, members of the community rallied to help their neighbors.

Tebbs said New York Administrator and a representative from Councilman Jill Brewer’s office arrived at the scene while rescue operations were still underway. 7 members of the local community council reached out and provided the residents with air purifiers. Other locals stepped up to provide the man with alternative materials. And NYCHA’s cleaning crews were already at work Friday, clearing the soot and preparing to repaint the walls.

“They were 100 percent responsive,” Tebbs says. “I am overwhelmed with love and anxiety.”

In an email response to WSR, a NYCHA spokesperson said that no residents have been displaced and that NYCHA continues to work with tenants to provide them with any services they need.

File photo of Cynthia Tibbs from 2021.

New Yorkers are especially vigilant about the dangers of space heaters this week, after The devastating Bronx fire On Sunday, at least 17 people were killed after a unit malfunctioned.

A NYCHA spokesperson said the agency is providing all residents with an FDNY safety handbook that instructs, “If you need a portable heater, use only portable electric heaters approved for indoor use (with heating elements closed). Do not use your stove or oven to heat your apartment. Do not use kerosene heaters or propane, which is dangerous and illegal for indoor use in New York City.”

NYCHA’s rental package also offers these safety tips, she said:

Call 311… for a fire check if you are not sure the heat source is safe.

Check the power current required to operate the portable heater. Ensure that it can operate safely on a standard household electrical circuit.

Check the heater occasionally when it’s on, and turn it off when you leave the apartment or when you sleep.

Never leave children alone in a room when the portable space heater is on.

Keep all household items that could catch fire, including furniture, curtains, rugs, and paper, at least three feet from a heat source.

Never roll clothes over a heater to dry.

WSR asked an FDNY spokesperson what to do if an electric fireplace caught fire.

In general, he said, first call 911 for FDNY assistance. Then, if you can safely unplug the unit, do so as quickly as possible. Using a fire extinguisher or baking soda can help put out the flame. But “water and electricity do not mix. It will cause a reaction.”

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