By Charlie Lebwohl ‘23, Opinion Editor
On the morning of Sunday, January 9, a deadly fire broke out in a Bronx apartment building. A malfunctioning electric space heater caused the fire, which started in a duplex apartment on the second and third floors and immediately triggered the building’s fire alarm system. Given the frequency of false alarms in the building, some residents initially ignored the alarm. The residents of the duplex left the door open when they fled. The door’s self-closing mechanism–a fire safety feature–failed, allowing the fire’s smoke to fill the entire building. The mechanism in a stairway door on the 15th floor also failed.
The FDNY arrived within three minutes of the fire alarm going off. Around 200 firefighters responded in total. Rescuers fought through the smoke even after depleting the oxygen from their tanks. The scene was apocalyptic, with victims suffering from cardiac and respiratory arrest on every floor and in the stairwells.
Of the seventeen casualties, eight were children. Almost all were Gambian–the building housed a small but vibrant immigrant community. A funeral was held at the nearby Islamic Cultural Center for 15 of the victims. The leader of the center, Sheikh Musas Drammeh, led the service. He blamed the fire and the deaths on the inequality in the city. “If these people lived in Midtown Manhattan, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “They would not have needed space heaters. The conditions in which they lived caused their deaths. Mr. Mayor, you heard? Mr. Schumer, you heard?” he asked.
According to a 2017 study, about 27 percent of households in the Fordham neighborhood where the fire took place use space heaters. Though none of the three heating complaints filed against the building were unresolved at the time of the fire, residents stated that the building’s heating remains lackluster.
The Heschel Hesed and Tzedek Council began collecting money for the Bronx Fire Relief fund the following Tuesday. They raised around $750 in total. The Council also collected emergency supplies such as clothing, food, and toiletries for victims of the fire.