Firemen rescue 2 from Woodside blaze

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Firefighters rescued a man and woman from the fourth floor of a burning Woodside apartment building late Tuesday afternoon by carrying them on their backs down what remained of a partially collapsed stairwell, fire officials said.

The two residents plus four firefighters were injured in the two- alarm blaze at 47-15 48th St., which broke out in a first-floor apartment and rapidly spread up the stairwell to the fifth floor and out the roof. None of the injuries was life threatening.

The woman was listed in critical but stable condition Wednesday morning in the burn unit of Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, where the man was in stable condition, hospital spokeswoman Tracy Hickenbottom said.

“The fire caused the stairwell to collapse from the first floor to the top floor,” said Battalion Chief Vincent Sweeney, who led the FDNY’s efforts to put out the fire. “It’s not too often you see a staircase collapse under fire conditions.”

The fire was reported at 4:06 p.m. and reached two alarms by 4:20 p.m.. Firefighters brought the blaze under control about 50 minutes after it began, a fire official on the scene said.

More than 100 firefighters and 25 units were called to the scene. The cause of the fire had not yet been determined by Wednesday morning, an FDNY spokesman said.

Although the steps and landings of the stone stairwell collapsed after cracking from the heat, firefighters from Rescue 4 managed to make their way down from the fourth floor with the man and woman on their backs by stepping along the remaining steel frame.

Of the four firefighters hurt in the stairwell collapse, one suffered a shoulder injury and three others “walked over to tell us” about their injuries, Sweeney said.

Major damage was confined to the apartment where the fire broke out and the stairwell, the charred remnants of which were visible from the building’s interior courtyard through five stories of shattered windows. Apartments directly above the first-floor unit suffered smoke and water damage.

Residents of the building, part of a large apartment complex called the Cosmopolitan, stood along 48th Street Tuesday evening swathed in blankets distributed by the Red Cross, wondering when they would be allowed to return and how much damage their homes had sustained.

Alexandra Calderon, a college student who lives on the third floor along the collapsed stairwell with her family, said she and her brother fled through the fire escape after she noticed the fire while cooking.

“As soon as I turned around, I smelled the smoke and smoke was coming through the door,” she said.

Irma Peralta saw the fire as she was leaving her apartment across the courtyard around 4 p.m.

“It was a big fire,” she said. “The flames were coming out of the windows.”

Felip Cabllero, a pediatrician from Long Island Jewish Hospital who lives across the hall from the apartment where the fire started, stepped over the shattered glass in the stone courtyard to survey the damage after the blaze was put out.

“I’m sorry for all of these people,” he said, gesturing to his neighbors’ apartments damaged in the fire. “My apartment — I think it’s OK.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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