Long road ahead for victims of massive Sunset Park apartment fire

There is a long road ahead for those working to rebuild the bulk of a Sunset Park building that was destroyed by a massive six-alarm fire earlier this month.

City officials stopped by Community Board 7’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, two weeks to the day the fire broke out, to update local residents on the status of 702 44th St.

“The whole sixth floor is really compromised,” Deputy Commissioner of Operations at the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Frank McCarton said, adding that both the owner of the building and the Department of Buildings have been working closely with the agency. “We continue to have on-site meetings with them daily. We were there today.”

As of Wednesday, McCarton said, floors three, four and five had been shored with the start of debris removal from the sixth floor, where the fire broke out, slated for Monday.

The sixth floor, he stressed, has to be braced — as do the day care center and the church nextdoor, before they can be re-occupied.

Lieutenant Mark Levens, who was on scene during the blaze, thanked residents of the building and neighbors alike for their patience in this trying time.

“We interact with you all on a daily basis, and a lot of times, it’s not the best situation — it’s usually your worst day,” he said. “I’m sorry for all that you lost and we thank you guys for your appreciation.”

The fire itself, he added, was one of the biggest he’s seen on the job.

When asked when the building would be deemed liveable again, McCarton suggested that it would be a long haul.

“Today, my travels took me past [the site of] a six-alarm fire I once had in Manhattan,” he said. “I went by the building today just to see. They’re still doing construction on some of the apartments and that job is about two and a half years old.”

Next steps, McCarton said, include “the restabilization of the building, the rebuilding of the floors, the rebuilding of the roof and [the gutting of] all 54 apartments.” Then, they’ll need to be rebuilt, he said.

“We have some concerns in regards to the structure,” added Deputy Inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez, commanding officer of the 72nd Precinct, who is continuing to deploy officers to the site. “The avenue is blocked off right now, just for safety. There are also concerns for school children. We don’t want them walking on that side of the street, so we have them crossing to the other side of the building.”

Speakers also said security has been upped at the site with the installation of surveillance cameras to help protect victims’ valuables.

“We’re going to ensure that property managers are maintaining on-site security,” Gonzalez said.

Community Board 7 Chair Cesar Zuniga, a resident of the building who lost his home, recounted his family’s escape from the fire.

“I wasn’t home but my kids were,” he said. “What I heard from them was that, when they were trying to leave the building through the stairs, [firefighters] were there already. They got there very quickly and instructed my kids to get back into the apartment and instructed them to go out onto the fire escape and evacuate the building.

“I keep thinking about those moments and how scary that must’ve been for my kids,” Zuniga went on, addressing officials, “but I can’t thank you enough for showing up and taking control.”

OEM will stay on the job until surrounding structures are re-occupied, but will continue to work with relevant agencies until victims are back in their homes. It is also working closely with animal control, McCarton said, to ensure that any animals officials may find alive make it home to their families. Though, he stressed, most pets did not survive the fire.

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who also attended the meeting, stressed the importance of continued support.

“There have been many crisis moments in this district,” he said. “I want to remind everyone that, as we move forward, the people that have been impacted need to lead their own recovery. What we need to do as city agencies, leaders of our community — and what we have been doing — is help, not because they are paid to do this work but because they feel the heart and love of this community and they feel the loss. Whatever they need, we need to support.”

By press time, a GoFundMe for victims of the fire had raised almost $119,000 towards its $125,000 goal.

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