Tag Archives: breezy point fire

SANDY ONE YEAR LATER: Houses spring up in Breezy Point ‘fire zone’

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Rebuilding photos by Melissa Chan/Fire photo by Alexa Altman

Nobody can keep Breezy Point down, not even Sandy.

A year after the storm wiped away longstanding houses and an electrical fire burned down 135 residences, the framework for dozens of homes have appeared, particularly in a once vacant, ash-filled lot, in what residents have called the “fire zone.”

“The level of activity is mind boggling. Houses are up all over. It’s a major construction scene,” said Arthur Lighthall, general manager of the Breezy Point Cooperative. “I’m just overwhelmed that we’ve seen so much activity, as I was overwhelmed the two weeks after the storm thinking we’d never see this community come back to the way it is.”

The co-op office sees building applications coming in daily. As of October 17, the management team had seen 117 from home and business owners looking to rebuild.

Lighthall estimates they see two to three applications a day and said they are doing their “best” to gauge whether the building-design submissions fit the co-op’s limits.

Those limits reflect the city’s, Lighthall said, which require a base height of two feet, plus an additional foot. Each home’s height requirement depends upon the flood zone as well as the current sidewalk or land height of the area.

The building of 30 to 40 houses is underway and an additional 12 to 15 plans are in the final stages of being approved and can soon start rebuilding, according to Lighthall.

Building design applications are typically “identical” to what was there before.

“People just want their houses back,” Lighthall said.

The majority of residents are paying for the construction costs with FEMA grants, insurance money, or help from family. Roughly 1,700 homeowners applied for the city Build-it-Back program, but are waiting to hear what, if any, funds they will be granted.

“The people are doing it themselves in the community,” Lighthall said.



SANDY ONE YEAR LATER: Family rebuilds after Breezy Point fire

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Shamus Barnes

One year ago, Shamus Barnes found his Breezy Point home in the fire zone that Sandy left behind.

“It just looked like a bomb went off in the area,” he said. “You heard about it on the news, but you actually didn’t think it was that bad until you saw it.”

Barnes, 44, had been going to Breezy Point since he was five years old. At the time of the storm, he, his wife and three children had a 1940s bungalow they spent summers in. His home, as well as his parents’ home on the same block, was burnt down after an electrical fire broke out that October night.

“Your first reaction is shock,” he said. “But in the end, nobody died. There are worse things that could happen.”

Barnes was able to get from his northern New Jersey home to Breezy Point the day after the storm. When he initially heard about the fire, he didn’t know whether his house had been caught in the blaze.

“It’s devastating, really,” he said.

His 17-year-old son had worked at the Breezy Point Surf Club the summer before and was looking forward to returning this past season, but couldn’t because their home had not yet been rebuilt.

Two weeks ago, Barnes was able to get his rebuilding permits approved and poured the foundation for a new home.

Through homeowners’ insurance and his own funds, he’ll be able to replace the house he lost, with upgrades, up six feet from the ground.

He estimates construction will be done by April, in time for next summer.

After the destruction, Barnes is looking towards the future, and his family is ready for another Breezy summer.

“My daughter will be 16, she’s looking forward to being a lifeguard,” he said.



Cuomo passes bill to make rebuilding easier for Breezy Point residents

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP

Sandy left 135 homes incinerated and hundreds more damaged by flooding. Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a bill on Thursday, July 10 that will allow affected residents to waive the Board of Standard and Appeals (BSA) process and allow them to rebuild immediately.

“Before today, Breezy Point residents faced the prospect of waiting up to a year for approval to rebuild homes devastated during Sandy,” Cuomo said. “Signing this law [gives] these New Yorkers an easier way forward as they continue to restore their homes and neighborhoods.”

Breezy Point does not have street frontage. Instead, there are sandy pathways throughout the community. Due to this unique layout, many building and homeowners who hoped to reconstruct were previously required to file for a special permit through the BSA.

The BSA process can take as long as 18 months to complete, said Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder, who drafted the legislation.

“Now it’s a simple building process,” he said. “They won’t have to worry about the lengthy, bureaucratic BSA process.”

Those looking to rebuild will submit a permit to the city Department of Buildings and “once the permit is approved by this single agency, building is permissible,” Goldfeder said.

“Now, rather than spend the summer swimming in a sea of red tape, we can start rebuilding the hundreds of homes tragically lost during Sandy,” said Arthur Lighthall, Breezy Point resident and president of the Breezy Point Co-Op. “If there is one thing that Breezy Point has shown time and time again, it is that we are a resilient community. We will rebuild and come back stronger than before.”



Lawsuit filed alleging negligence by power companies during Breezy Point blaze

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP

The Breezy Point blaze during Sandy was “so massive, it looked like a forest fire,” said Billy Heeran, a Rockaway resident.

Heeran owned what has been called an “iconic restaurant” in the neighborhood, the Harbor Light Pub. The family business had stayed afloat for over 30 years, but it was reduced to ashes the night of the storm.

Dylan Smith, who died surfing less than two months after rescuing people during Sandy, worked for Heeran for 10 years and called him that night to tell him the pub was on fire.

“He said, ‘Billy, there’s fire blowing out of the windows,’” Heeran said. “I knew it was bad. There was no fire department getting in there.”

Following the FDNY confirmation that the fire was electrical, people who lost homes and businesses decided to fight back. A notice of claim was filed in January, as previously reported by The Courier, that residents were seeking damage compensation from power companies LIPA and National Grid.

The negligence claim against the power companies was officially filed Tuesday, July 3. It alleges that the two had a duty to provide for and ensure the safety of the property of those who are supplied its electricity, such as Breezy Point, and was negligent in failing to de-energize the area prior to the storm.

In the event of extreme flooding, power companies are advised to shut off electricity in vulnerable areas in order to prevent incidents such as electrical fires. The claim states that prior to Sandy, both LIPA and National Grid were aware of the necessity to do as such.

Law firms Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP and Godosky & Gentile, P.C. are representing 120 people all seeking a different amount of compensation based on damages.

“It’s a tremendous burden on these folks,” said attorney Keith Sullivan, born and raised in the Rockaways. “They don’t have the money to rebuild.”

Additionally, he said, the fire victims will have to rebuild according to new building codes and FEMA requirements.

LIPA issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying the “effort to place fault for this tragedy with the utility is misplaced,” but the company is “sensitive to those families who suffered tragic losses from Sandy.”
Sullivan countered the statement, saying it is “completely ridiculous.”

“That implies these people are making this up,” he said. “There’s nothing faint about their losses.”

A National Grid spokesperson said the group has not yet received the lawsuit, but “National Grid’s actions during Sandy were reasonable and appropriate” and they “don’t believe that these claims have merit.”
Heeran, also a local firefighter, said once he received the fire marshal’s report, he thought, “There’s negligence here.”

“If the power was shut down, the fire would have never happened. We would have been flooded, but would have been back up in business within 10 days,” he said.



After losing 40 years of memories in Breezy Point fire, homeowner fights for justice

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

The cause of Sandy’s Breezy Point fire was electric, the FDNY announced in December.

One month later, area resident Kieran Burke has initiated a lawsuit against the town’s power company, LIPA, and rallied his neighbors to fight for justice.

“[LIPA’s] negligence destroyed my home and incinerated 40 years worth of memories,” said Burke. “That was my childhood home, I raised my family there.”

When Burke got word that the blaze was electric, and then further received word that LIPA could have prematurely shut off the area’s electricity before Sandy hit, he approached longtime neighborhood friend and attorney, Keith Sullivan, of the law firm Sullivan and Galleshaw.

The firm was the first to file, followed by Sullivan, Papain, Block, McGrath and Cannavo (SPBMC). Together, the two represent roughly a combined 90 residents. Each claimant is seeking a different amount, with the highest claim being $1.5 million.

“From my perspective, this is a tragedy, and it was so avoidable,” said Sullivan. “We have a community that was hit hard by Mother Nature, and then kicked when it was down by LIPA’s incompetence.”

When the flames started that night, Burke dashed from a nearby home to his own, where he frantically searched for important items, including his son’s birth certificate. The fire spread, and he had to leave his home immediately.

“Their negligence nearly killed me,” he said.

The six-alarm blaze that incinerated over 100 homes could have been avoided if LIPA had shut off the area’s electricity before floodwaters came through, according to the claim filed with SPBMC.

The day before Sandy hit, the storm was predicted to have “destruction potential,” the legal claim stated. In such a case, de-energizing, or suspending electricity to an area, is recommended in order to protect the public from fire and electrical hazards posed by floodwaters.

According to the claim, LIPA had knowledge that Breezy Point was a flood-prone zone before Sandy hit, but disregarded this notion.

“De-energizing Breezy Point and the Rockaway Peninsula during Sandy would have afforded [these families] and their neighbors protection from fire,” said the claim.

LIPA, however, did take precautionary measures and de-energized Fire Island before the storm struck, and also did so one year prior, before Hurricane Irene. One official, in the claim, described these acts as “a measure to avoid fires and other risks that would require a personnel response not possible during the storm,” measures that Breezy Point was not afforded.

A LIPA spokesperson said that the organization had reviewed the claims, and has no comment at this time.
“This is a cut and dry situation,” said Burke. “LIPA destroyed people’s lives.”



Sandy first responders honored as Queens Courier Persons of the Year

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Persons of the Year

With 2012  behind us, The Queens Courier is paying tribute to the first responders — those men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and who braved Sandy’s wrath to save, and help rebuild, lives.

They have earned our respect and admiration, and a debt of gratitude. Here is are some of their stories…

Dylan Smith

Dylan Smith saved the lives of six people during Sandy using just his surfboard, but tragically lost his own life just months later while on the water. On the night of Monday, October 29, Smith, 23, heroically paddled through the floodwaters into his neighbors’ homes in Belle Harbor, and, using a homemade rope bridge along with his surfboard, moved people to safety. Read more

Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department

By now, everyone knows the story. More than 120 houses burned to the ground in Breezy Point the night Sandy struck. It was one of the most destructive residential fires in New York City history. Houses were lost, but lives were saved. Read more

Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department

It began as a glow to the west, a speck of twinkling amber light in the darkness. From the loft above the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department’s station, the crew watched as the flicker became a blaze, carrying a once charming beachfront neighborhood into the night sky in embers and smoke. “Oh my God,” they said. “Breezy’s burning.” Read more

West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department

The West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department station house is on a strip of land that isn’t far from the water. So when the storm surge from Sandy started to rise up in the hamlet on Jamaica Bay, it brought seven feet of water into the firehouse where eight volunteers — five firefighters and three EMTs — were on duty. Read more

Queens Courier Persons of the Year honoree: Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department

| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison

With 2012 behind us, The Queens Courier is paying tribute to the first responders — those men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and who braved Sandy’s wrath to save, and help rebuild, lives.

They have earned our respect and admiration, and a debt of gratitude. Here is one of their stories…

By now, everyone knows the story. More than 120 houses burned to the ground in Breezy Point the night Sandy struck. It was one of the most destructive residential fires in New York City history. Houses were lost, but lives were saved. The Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department (BPVFD), along with the Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department and Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department, stand as a major reason no residents died that night as members fought through 10 feet of water to be the first to arrive on the scene of the inferno.

But there is another story, a story of the houses saved from fire.

The Point Breeze department went out on a call and saw another house in flames about a half mile from the six-alarm blaze. By that time, most phones were down and no one called in the fire. The firefighters responded to the flames and extinguished them.

“Had that fire gotten loose, everything west of there would have been gone,” said Marty Ingram, fire chief of the BPVFD. “That would have been another devastation, we would have lost an equal number of homes and we could have lost the whole community.”

Twenty-five volunteers worked the night of Sandy, helping save those homes and rescue residents. And for the two months since the storm, the firefighters, who are college students, retirees, or hold down full-time jobs, have continued their work in helping the close-knit community get back on its feet.

The department has been helping in any it can: doing electrical work, plumbing, gutting houses.

“The service we provide, we try to take it a step further,” Tim Dufficy, a volunteer with the department for 10 years.

Many of the all-volunteer crew also had their homes damaged by the storm, as was the firehouse. Seven or eight members of the 50-person crew are sleeping at the firehouse, which is now staffed 24/7.

Used to helping others, the department has received an outpouring of support from throughout the country.

“We’ve had a lot of angels come in,” said Ingram. “We have become a universal fire house.”

Firefighters from Chicago, Miami and Pennsylvania descended on the fire house, helping where they can, staying overnight and heading out on calls. A truck was donated from Pittsburgh and tsunami of supplies poured in.

Edward Manley, from Florida and one of the many individual volunteers to gravitate to the area, said he plans on staying and joining the volunteer fire department.

“They’re great guys,” Manley said. “Some of the best people in the world you can meet.”

In addition to the repairs necessary at the fire house, the department is looking to add a second floor. They will be relying mostly on donations for the work. Most of the money raised for the volunteer department usually came from the Breezy community, largely displaced now, while those who have remained are focused on repairing their own damaged homes.

Those who would like to donate can head to pointbreezefiredepartment.bigcartel.com to purchase a T-shirt with the money going toward their rebuilding.

Members of the department said the outreach from the community has been tremendous, but Ingram said they were, and continue to be, just doing what they signed up for.

“Our job is to rise up from under the storm at the earliest possible time and reserve our roles as guardians of the community,” said Ingram.

More Queens Courier Persons of the Year:

Queens Courier Persons of the Year honoree: Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department

| aaltman@queenscourier.com


With 2012 behind us, The Queens Courier is paying tribute to the First Responders — those men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and who braved Sandy’s wrath to save, and help rebuild, lives.

They have earned our respect and admiration, and a debt of gratitude. Here is one of their stories . .

It began as a glow to the west, a speck of twinkling amber light in the darkness. From the loft above the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department’s station, the crew watched as the flicker became a blaze, carrying a once charming beachfront neighborhood into the night sky in embers and smoke.

“Oh my God,” they said. “Breezy’s burning.”

By dawn, the Breezy Point fire consumed over 120 homes, displacing hundreds during the most devastating storm to hit the East Coast in years. The Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department was one of the first outfits to respond to the fire — the most destructive one Chief Richard Colleran had witnessed in more than four decades of service.

Sandy provided unexpected complications for the volunteer company. Around 6:25 p.m. on Monday, October 29, water entered the firehouse. Within 15 minutes, the tide rose up to their knees. Colleran ordered his 12 remaining crew members to the studio apartment-sized room above the station where they watched the fire as it grew larger. Then, they lost all communication.

“We didn’t know how high the fire was going to get or when it was going to stop,” said Colleran.

One of the firefighters, a dispatcher with the FDNY, sent a distress signal to alert the borough’s dispatch center about the expanding inferno. Helpless, all they could do was wait and watch as the glow off in the distance crept closer.

Around 10 p.m., the flood receded enough to move the trucks from the station. The water-logged engines took several tries to start before sputtering on, gurgling under the weight of several feet of ocean. The crew members jumped on their soaked trucks and moved towards the blaze.

At 8th and Ocean Avenues, the nexus of the flash, the Roxbury Department met with members of Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Company, who at the mercy of the tide were left without equipment. Broken water mains and defunct hydrants led Colleran and his men to draft seawater from where they stood using a floating strainer and suction — a piece of equipment that no other fire company in the area owned. They came in from the north side, attacking the fire to ensure it did not spread any further. Propane barbecue tanks and transformers burst like cherry bombs around the firefighters who sprayed the climbing flames.

“The fire was around us and all over the place. I don’t know how many houses were gone at the time,” Colleran said.

Back at the Roxbury Fire Station, Colleran’s wife Mary watched the blaze, terrified.

“The scary thing was these guys were the only ones who could put water on the fire,” she said. “None of the other departments could — I just kept praying these guys were OK — that was a scary night.”

Several hours into fighting the fire, trucks began disappearing. Drivers left their men standing in the watery inferno, confused. The pump used to harness seawater broke. City fire departments had finally arrived, drafting water with their rigs. With the blaze contained, Colleran and his men made their way back to their station house, exhausted. They didn’t have to make any rescues or pull anyone from the fire. There were no lives lost. For that, they were thankful.

Since the storm, the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department has been running a makeshift mini-mart, stocking shelves of baby formula, chips and bottled water for locals in need. Construction paper pennants and cards, scribbled with magic marker offer pleas of strength and hope from students in the surrounding New York area.

“Stay strong!” some say. “Don’t give up hope.”

Fifteen families have called the station house “home” for the past few months, sleeping in the same loft where the staff watched the fire. Every day, the lunch crowd for Mary Colleran’s ribs and sausages grows smaller. Richard Colleran used to monitor how many visitors stopped in by how many times he needed to refill the coffee pot. The number has dwindled as the displaced find refuge elsewhere.

It will be months before Richard and Mary Colleran return to their home on the bayfront in Roxbury, which swallowed over six feet of water, lost its deck and suffered a cracked foundation. Their furniture is gone and their insurance won’t cover any of it.

Regarded as extraordinary, the veteran firefighter said he did not feel his actions during the fire warranted herculean praise.

“They were calling him a hero,” said Mary.

“Oh? Nah, just doing what we do,” Colleran said. “I just went down there to do whatever I could do. I’ve been trying to help people for years and I’m still going to help people.”

More Queens Courier Persons of the Year honorees: