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Tenant alerts city he is suing over fatal fire

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One of the tenants of an illegally converted home in Woodside plans to sue the city after a fire there last month killed three of his neighbors.

Shari Ahammed, 30, ran through the burning two-story home at 42-50 65th St. Nov. 7, trying to warn his fellow tenants about the blaze, his lawyer Herb Subin said. He suffered burns to his hands and face that kept him hospitalized for three weeks, Subin said.

“Right now he’s dispossess­ed,” Subin said, noting Ahammed hoped to return to his job at a General Nutrition Center store. “He’s living in temporary housing and he’s trying to recover from his injuries.”

Subin filed his notice to sue Monday, seeking an indeterminate amount of money as damages.

The blaze started around 2:45 a.m. in the basement of the home that contained a number of illegal single-room units. Firefighters from Engine 292, less than three blocks away, were sent to 62nd Street because of a dispatcher error, delaying them by as much as three minutes, the firefighters union said.

After the fire, the city Department of Buildings issued three violations on the property for illegal occupancy, installing additional kitchens and bathrooms without a permit and for creating a cellar without a means of escape. Previously the DOB had received complaints about illegal apartments in 1990 and 2004, but inspectors did not find evidence of illegal conversions, a DOB spokesman said.

“The building inspector that saw this illegal condition was in part responsible for allowing it to exist and the Fire Department certainly for sending the firemen to the wrong address,” Subin said. “That caused the need for Mr. Ahammed to save the burning victims.”

The blaze has already had repercussions among emergency responders. The firefighters union has blamed the delay on a new 911 call-taking system implemented in May that reduces the amount of time Fire Department dispatchers interact with emergency callers. After the Woodside fire and another fatal blaze in Brooklyn, the city announced it would alter the policy to enable Fire Department dispatchers to listen in on the initial 911 call and verify all location information.

“This modification should not increase response time but will help train police call-takers as they take on this relatively new and important responsibi­lity,” a police spokesman said in an e-mail.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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