Remembering January 23, 2005

January 23, 2005

Posted on January 27, 2021
By Chief Alan Perdue (ret.), Executive Director, Safer Buildings Coalition

During many of my presentations across the country, I play an audio clip from a horrific fire that took place on this date 16 years ago. I do this to highlight how important in-building emergency responder communications are for public safety. Following a blizzard, New York City was extremely cold and windy on that Sunday morning. At 07:59 hours, FDNY responded to what would be a three-alarm structure fire in a four-story Bronx apartment building. Hampered by snow-covered streets, a frozen fire hydrant and an illegally sub-divided building, those brave firefighters went inside to search for trapped occupants resulting in six firefighters themselves becoming trapped on the fourth floor of the building. With no way to reach the fire escape, intense fire conditions forced those six FDNY firefighters to jump. Two of them lost their lives: Lt. Curtis W. Meyran and FF John G. Bellew. Four other firefighters – Jeffrey Cool, Lt. Joseph DiBernardo, Brendan Cawley and Eugene Stolowski – were severely injured. Lt. Joseph DiBernardo died several years later from the injuries he sustained that day. A few hours later, In a separate incident, another firefighter, Richard T. Sclafani, was killed while responding to a basement fire in a two-story private dwelling in Brooklyn. That day, January 23, 2005, became known as “Black Sunday.” 

Prior to playing the audio clip from “Black Sunday,” I always ask the audience: “Have you ever been trapped in a building when it is on fire? Have you ever had to rely on a single piece of equipment (a radio) to let someone know where you are so that someone can come and try to rescue you? Do you really understand how important in-building communications is for our emergency responders?” I ask the audience to listen to this clip and think about what it must be like. I ask them to close their eyes while they listen and imagine having to deal with all the obstacles that confront the firefighters while doing their jobs and focus on the importance of the radio communications. Can you hear and understand what is being said?  

I have played that recording hundreds of times, and to me it is as moving today as it was the first time I heard it. The incident that day highlighted many issues, such as safety equipment, building codes, and especially that of fire-ground communications. And many people continue to work on improving all of them. As we remember these brave men and the ultimate sacrifice they made, let’s make sure we all do our part to continue the fight to do what is right and just in making buildings safer for our emergency responders. Why? Because their lives depend on it… 

As Edmund Burke, a British Statesman and Philosopher, once said; “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”