Put disabled on lower floors: Smith

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Elected officials representing the Rockaways are exploring ways to ensure disabled residents at the city’s housing projects have apartments on the lower floors of their buildings after a 54−year−old woman was killed and her disabled daughter seriously injured last week when a fire ripped through their apartment at Carleton Manor.

At a news conference outside the housing project last week, state Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans) said federal rules make it difficult for the New York City Housing Authority to place disabled tenants in apartments whose locations make it easier for them to get out of the building in case of an emergency.

“We believe that that might be an idea whose time has come,” Smith said. “Obviously, we think there should be some preference and direction given.”

A fire broke out May 20 inside Apartment 10G in Carleton Manor at 71−15 Beach Channel Drive at around 9:54 a.m., killing a 54−year−old mother and seriously injuring her daughter, who has cerebral palsy, according to Fire Department Chief James DiDemenico, the chief investigator of the incident. He said the daughter was taken to the burn center at Cornell Weill Medical Center.

DiDemenico said the fire was confined to a bedroom in the apartment, which is located on the highest floor of Carleton Manor, and the cause was still under investigation. He did not release the name of the mother or daughter.

The investigator said firefighters found the mother and daughter in the same room, with the mother next to pots filled with water — an indication she was trying to put the fire out when she died.

State Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D−Far Rockaway) said at the news conference that she had introduced legislation in Albany that mandates the disabled be located on accessible floors.

“This is an issue that we have been working on,” Titus said.

City Councilman James Sanders (D−Laurelton) also said handicapped people should have apartments on lower floors.

“We should use this [incident] as a wake−up call,” he said.

NYCHA General Manager Doug Apple said the agency gives fire plans to public housing residents every year and asks them to review them and urges the tenants to make sure they know what to do if an emergency arises. He said the agency will be stressing education after the fatal fire.

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D−Rockaway Beach) agreed that the residents should be reminded about fire safety.

“This was an accident and we want to make sure the education — what to do, how to get out and call 911 — gets out to tenants,” she said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

Updated 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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