Yonkers mayor's aide denies charge that glitch slowed fire response

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano speaks about budget issues Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano speaks about budget issues at Yonkers City Hall. (July 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Siesel

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Contrary to union claims, there was no significant lag in response time to a three-alarm blaze that left at least three families homeless and destroyed a Yonkers home, a spokeswoman for Mayor Mike Spano said Thursday.

Barry McGoey, president of Local 628 of the International Association of Firefighters and a frequent critic of the city's budget cutbacks, had charged that a system designed to alert fire stations failed and delayed by several minutes the response to Wednesday's fire at 68 Crestwood Ave.

But Christina Gilmartin, Yonkers communications director, said city officials pored through the logs and determined McGoey's assertions were exaggerated.

"Despite what the union head said, the difference in response time was in seconds, not multiple minutes," she said.

Gilmartin said the first firefighters arrived at the fire in under six minutes, less than a minute over the expected response time.

Still, Gilmartin acknowledged that the 911 system used by both police and firefighters suffered a hiccup and dispatchers had to call individual stations. She said Spano is calling for an investigation to ensure it does not happen again.

Ordinarily, a 911 call is dispatched to a computer system that sends alarms to several fire stations simultaneously.

"That didn't happen yesterday," McGoey said. "Nothing came over the radio."

Gilmartin said initial indications suggest that the problem was caused when a system glitch occurred while routine maintenance was under way.

Firefighters were dispatched to 68 Crestwood Ave. at 1:55 p.m. and raised a third alarm as the fire spread to a neighboring home at 70 Crestwood Ave.

Matt Damon, who was washing his car in his girlfriend's driveway at 70 Crestwood Ave., said it was only five minutes from the moment he first smelled smoke to when the fire reached the roof, fully engulfing 68 Crestwood Ave.

About four feet separate the two houses, Damon said, and "the rooflines almost touch." As flames climbed from 68 Crestwood's first floor, Damon said he realized his girlfriend's home was in danger. He said neighbors moved quickly to help after making sure no one was still inside the homes.

"It's a tight-knit neighborhood, and a lot of people are distressed with seeing neighbors go through this," Damon said.

No injuries were reported, firefighters said. A kitten was rescued from 68 Crestwood Ave. and returned to a woman who lived in the building, fire officials said.

The blaze may have started with an electrical malfunction, fire investigators said.

"Someone said they think they saw an air conditioner sparking, but they can't be sure," Lt. Achille Celio of Engine Company 306 said. "From there, it spread pretty fast."

Concerned passersby were joined by Spano, who stopped to look on as firefighters attacked the flames.

"What I saw here today obviously was Yonkers' finest doing what they always do, which is coming to work, working hard, putting out a pretty devastating fire and getting it out and saving lives," Spano said.

The Red Cross was called in by the Yonkers Office of Emergency Management, Red Cross spokeswoman Carolyn Sherwin said. Sherwin said two adults and two children lived at 68 Crestwood Ave. and that four adults and one child lived at 70 Crestwood.

City officials have sparred with union officials over a contract under which more than 70 percent of Yonkers' 465 firefighters had salaries of $100,000 or more in 2011.

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