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17 firefighters injured as massive fire clears Rego Park apartment buildings

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Seventeen firefighters were injured  fighting a five-alarm fire that emptied a Rego Park apartment complex Wednesday morning.  Four of the firefighters were hospitalized.

“It was a nightmare,” said Smita Shah, 45, who lives on the fifth floor. “Never expected it could happen so fast.”

John Sudnik, deputy assistant fire chief for the city Fire Department’s Queens Borough, said the blaze started on the sixth floor of Caroline Gardens at Woodhaven Boulevard and 60th Avenue, in one of the apartments. When the fire was at its peak, it encompassed about five apartments on the sixth floor and the area between the top floor and the roof.

“That’s a wide open area that spans the entire area of the building,” Sudnik said.

Sudnik said the call for the fire came in at 10:20 a.m., and members of the FDNY arrived about six minutes later. Additional forces were called in to fight the fire due to the high morning temperatures.

A spokesperson from FDNY said the cause of the fire was a candle left burning unattended.

Sudnik said the temperature of a fire can reach 1,000 degrees. With all the equipment they need to wear and the hot temperatures, the firefighters needed to be heavily monitored and could only stay in the blaze for a matter of minutes.

“Even on a normal day, this is a very taxing job,” he said.

Of the firefighters who were hurt, three were sent to a hospital for heat- and exhaustion-related injuries, Sudnik said. The fourth needed to be transferred for minor second-degree burns. No civilians were injured.

The fire was extinguished at 12:38 p.m., he said. Eight apartments or more on the sixth floor were damaged by the fire, and the fifth floor sustained water damage.

“I don’t know what to do about a solution,” said Jhon Garcia, 46, a resident of the sixth floor who left early in the morning for a job interview and came back to find the apartment on fire.

Utility service to the building was cut as a precaution, Sudnik said.

No residents had been allowed back in the building as of Wednesday afternoon. Residents were later allowed to get their possessions, a spokesperson from FDNY said.

“I feel exhausted, tired,” said May Chen, a resident in her 20s who lives on the third floor. “I hope everything is back to normal soon.”

Edward McQuillan, disaster services liaison officer for the American Red Cross in Greater New York, said the Red Cross was on hand with cold water and other services for the displaced residents. The Red Cross opened a reception center for the displaced residents at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 86-16 60th Rd.

Feroz Kalvavant, 25, who lives in the nearby Karen Gardens and has a brother who lives on the fifth floor of Caroline Gardens, said he was impressed by the response of the firefighters and called them heroes.

“They make me almost want to cry,” he said.

Updated 6:12 pm, October 10, 2011
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