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FDNY grabs 3 from fire on 118th St.

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Driven onto the roof by flames and smoke that rapidly spread from the first floor of the three-story brick residence at 94-24 118th St. operated by a Catholic social services agency, the mother held onto a chimney, clutching her year-old baby, and waited for firefighters to arrive, witnesses and officials said.Thomas Irving, a firefighter assigned to Ladder Co. 146, the Princeton Street Tigers, ascended an aerial ladder, crossed the roof blanketed in snow by an overnight storm, and took the baby from the arms of the woman who was desperately screaming for help, witnesses said."She was very nervous and I calmed her down a little bit and told her to hand me the baby," said Irving, 48, of Seldon, L.I. "I was just happy to get the baby out of there. I was afraid they were both going to slip off the roof."As Firefighters William Johnson and Dennis Barnes, working with Ladder 126/Engine 303, put up a ladder to pull another resident from a window at the south side of the house, colleagues Sherman Smalls, a nine-year veteran from St. Albans, and James Mare, a 14-year veteran from Babylon, L.I., hoisted a portable ladder and rescued the still-screaming mother on the north side."We couldn't see her because of all the smoke. All we could hear when we got there were screams," said Smalls, who along with Mare is assigned to Ladder 127/Engine 238. "It feels good to have saved her - the reason all of us are here is that someone feels like they can make a difference."The woman, whose name was not released, lived with her child inside the former convent now operated by Hour Children Inc., as a residence for mothers recently released from jail.. The agency operates five such residences throughout the city as well as a day care facility in Long Island City.Sister Teresa Fitzgerald, who runs the 118th Street site where the blaze occurred, said a total of 14 women and children, including herself and another full-time staff member, lived inside the gutted brick residence. "The firemen said 'Count on this as a miracle,' because they were shocked that people got out of there alive," Fitzgerald said, clutching a slightly damaged photo of her mother in her soot-stained hands. Chief Howard Carlson said the Fire Department got the call at 8:40 a.m. Firefighters arrived two minutes later and immediately asked for backup, sending it to a two-alarm blaze. He said 25 units with 106 firefighters placed the blaze under control in about 45 minutes.Seven residents and four firefighters were being treated for minor injuries at Jamaica Hospital Center and Mary Immaculate Hospital.Although a source said the speed with which the fire spread inside the building might indicate the presence of an accelerant, investigators said they believe the fire may have been sparked by a candle."We have no reason to suspect that anyone has anything against us," said Father John O'Brien, pastor of the St. Joseph Labre Church that is connected to Hour Children. "We know of no one who would want to cause us damage."Hour Children has asked for the public's help in rebuilding the destroyed building. For more information, visit www.hourchildren.org.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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