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Blaze on Braddock Avenue destroys ambulance corps

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Fire broke out in the basement of the Queens Village Hollis Bellerose Volunteer Ambulance Corps Friday, severely damaging the building and shutting down the corps' operations. One firefighter was injured slightly.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation at the facility at 235-01 Braddock Ave.

Two off-duty corps volunteers, Fred Van Pelt, 18, and Jason Meyer, 16, were eating lunch across the street when the fire started shortly after 3 p.m.

"We just ordered food, and I saw a guy banging on the door," said Van Pelt. "I went outside and saw smoke pouring out of the vents. I told my partner to call the Fire Department and I pulled the fire alarm."

About 60 firefighters responded to the call, and the blaze was under control by just after 4 p.m., a Fire Department spokesman said. One firefighter was treated at North Shore University Hospital for a minor muscle pull, but there were no other injuries.

Barbara Brown Lax, the corps' president, said that all the furniture and equipment inside were ruined. Although the structure of the building itself was intact, she said, the entire interior would have to be gutted. She estimated the extent of the damage at $500,000.

"We have a lot of damage because a lot of property was destroyed," Lax said. "With the rain on Saturday, what the fire didn't get, the elements got."

The building was deserted Monday. Four of its six windows were boarded up, and broken glass was strewn around the sidewalk. Inside, smashed plaster littered the floor, and the ceiling was almost entirely torn apart. The odor of smoke was strong both outside the building and inside Scheblin Intercity Plumbing, one door down.

Lax said the corps had ceased all operations and would not be able to resume service until she had located a temporary headquarters. She is looking into the possibility of sharing the facilities of another volunteer company, but plans to rebuild the original headquarters as soon as possible. In the meantime, those in need of emergency ambulance service should dial 911.

Although the source of the fire was not known, a Fire Department spokesman indicated that firefighters left the building when they smelled gas in a basement room. They resumed their efforts after Con Edison arrived and shut off the gas.

One of the witnesses to the fire was state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who was at work in his district office on nearby Gettysburg Street Friday afternoon.

"It's tragic," he said in an interview. "I remember when that building was first acquired by the corps many years ago. It's been a big plus. Obviously, it will diminish their capacity to function."

Donations can be sent to: Queens Village Hollis Bellerose Volunteer Ambulance Corps, P.O. Box 28003, Queens Village, NY 11428. Checks should be made payable to QVHB Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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