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.