NEW YORK—A mishandled air conditioner wire caused a multiple-apartment fire in Williamsburg that took the life of a veteran firefighter Saturday night.
The fire broke out at around 9 p.m., the city’s Fire Department spokesman said. It spread from the 19th floor to the 17th and 18th floors of 73–75 Wilson Street, a New York City Housing Authority apartment complex in Williamsburg.
The fire, put out by 105 firefighters, was caused by an air conditioner electrical cord pinched between a bed frame and wall, fire marshals announced Sunday.
Lt. Gordon Ambelas, a distinguished firefighter, died after suffering critical injuries fighting the blaze.
Joseph Barach, a local resident, witnessed firefighters first arriving on the scene. “They didn’t know where the fire was,” he said. “They first went to 99 Wilson.”
The firefighters were delayed in their effort to combat the fire, Barach said, because the fire engine’s ladder did not reach to the 19th floor. Consequently, they had to ascend the building using the elevator.
“The smoke was coming through the floor like a genie,” Charles Gavin, who lives on the 19th floor, said.
Gavin, who is wheelchair dependent, was sitting in his bedroom when his mother brought his attention to the dense smoke outside his window. “It was like a black waterfall,” he said.
Gavin warned neighbors about the fire before evacuating the building with his mother, his uncle, and his pet dog, via the elevator.
Barach witnessed Lt. Ambelas being carried out from the building. “There were at least 15 guys doing CPR on him nonstop” he said. “He was all black from smoke.”
Afterward, Barach saw another firefighter return with Ambelas’s turnout coat, helmet, and oxygen tank, which were carried to one of the fire engines.
Barach said that by 10 p.m. there were no longer flames visible in the building. He saw firefighters lying exhausted on benches outside the building, catching their breath. The fire was under control by 10:15 p.m. an FDNY spokesman said.
Two other firefighters and two residents were treated for minor injuries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.