At least 34 people, including more than a dozen firefighters, were hurt in a five-alarm blaze that gutted a multi-family apartment building on Staten Island early Thursday and forced a father to throw his two young children out of a second-floor window in a desperate effort to escape the flames, fire officials say.
Crews responded to the fire at the five-unit building on Chestnut Avenue in the Rosebank neighborhood at about 1 a.m., according to the FDNY. By the time crews arrived, flames and heavy smoke were billowing from windows and the roof.
"There was a tremendous amount of fire," said Fire Chief Pete Leicht.
Anthony DiSimone, a man who lived two homes down, said he saw the fire break out in the back of the building. He said they called 911 to report the blaze and then ran over to the apartment with his fiancee.
When they got there, the couple found a father trapped in a second floor with his young son and daughter.
"He was just dangling his son outside screaming, 'Catch my boy! Catch my boy!'" DiSimone said. He caught the boy. His fiancee, Darlene Cerzosie, caught the girl but fell and injured her shoulder from the impact.
Cerzosie said that despite her injury, she would do it again in a heartbeat.
"There was no way I was gonna let those kids stay up there any longer than they had to," she said. "It's not about being a hero at all. I just did what I would want done for me or my family."
Firefighters later arrived and helped the father out of the building. Firefighters say they also rescued several others, pulling ladders up to windows and helping people down the stairs and out of the building.
"They were crying, very distraught because they didn't know if their parents were alive or dead, so the firemen came and bravely went up there and rescued the parents," DiSimone said. “Hopefully they were all right," he said of the children. "They seemed all right.”
Of the 34 who were hurt, 11 are civilians, including six children, and 23 are firefighters, officials say. All are expected to survive, but one adult with cardiac issues is in serious condition.
Two hundred firefighters responded, officials say. The fire was contained shortly before 7 a.m.
The Red Cross was at the scene helping residents like Cindy Piscopo who were displaced by the blaze.
"My life is in there," said Piscopo, who lived on the first floor of the building with her 12-year-old daughter. She said she was awakened by a top-floor neighbor knocking on her door and yelling at her to get out. "I saw fire upstairs and flames shooting out of the side of the building. The top floors are gone."
It’s not clear how the fire started.