Firefighters perform animal rescue at pet shop blaze

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Dozens of puppies and kittens were saved from a burning Astoria pet store Memorial Day, but the shop’s exotic birds were all killed in the blaze.

The fire broke out at U.S. Pet Discount, at 31-52 Steinway St. in Astoria, just before 5 p.m. Monday and took nearly 45 minutes to extinguish, a spokesman for the city Fire Department said.

Firefighters saved as many as 30 animals from the store, including dogs, cats and gerbils, the spokesman said.

The pet shop had been closed for Memorial Day at the time of the fire. But its fish, snakes and exotic birds, which are sensitive to smoke inhalation, were mostly killed, a spokesman for the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition said.

Five firefighters were injured in the blaze, one of whom was sent with second-degree burns to New York Presbyterian Hospital-New York Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. The other four firefighters were taken to Astoria General Hospital with minor injuries.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, the FDNY spokesman said.

The fire damaged the store’s one-story building, but did not spread to other businesses on Steinway Street.

The pet store’s owners could not be reached for comment.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said firefighters had difficulty gaining entrance to the building because it had a roll-down gate. The store also did not have a sprinkler system, he said.

“That delay probably cost the lives of some animals,” said the councilman, who introduced a bill that was passed last year that will gradually phase out roll-down gates over a period of years. “One of the rationales for that bill was the safety of our firefighters. Nothing demonstrates that better than this incident.”

Firefighters from Long Island City’s Ladder 116 provided oxygen and other aid to animals in the street following the fire. Western Queens leaders said they are concerned the ladder could be among the 20 fire companies that could face the chopping block under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget cuts.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 5:46 pm, October 10, 2011
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