Seek Cause Of Fatal Fire At Astoria Store
As preparations were being made to bury the three firefighters who died in an explosive fire in Astoria on Sunday, Firefighter Joseph Vosilla of Astoria continues to fight for his life in Elmhurst Hospital Center.
At the same time, fire officials continued to search for answers as to what caused the fire at the Long Island General Supply Company at Astoria Boulevard and 14th Street. Fire Commissioner Thomas von Essen said if the building housing the 126-year-old company had had sprinklers installed, the deadly tragedy could have been averted.
Miraculously, tenants living above the store all survived the fire and blast.
Two of the deceased fire fighters, Harry Ford, 50, of Rescue 4 in Woodside and Brian Fahey, 46, also of Rescue 4, will be buried tomorrow--Ford in Long Beach, Fahey near his home in East Rockaway, both on Long Island.
The third dead firefighter, John J. Downing, 40, of Ladder 163 in Woodside, will be buried on Friday near his home in Port Jefferson Station.
All three shared the same firehouse in Woodside where their buddies on Monday draped black and purple bunting over the front door in mourning for their three fallen comrades.
For Downing, the firehouse was not far from St. Sebastian Church where he was baptized about four decadesw ago by his cousin, the Reverend John J. Sheehan, then the pastor.
On Friday, Father Sheehan, now a priest in a Staten Island Church, will return to St. Sebastian to preside over Downing’s funeral mass.
His mother, Josephine Downing, still resides in Woodside. His brother, Denis, also a firefighter, is assigned to Ladder 160 in Long Island City. Two other brothers, James and Joseph, are New York City police officers.
Firefighter Ford also has relatives living in Queens. Harry Ford, the father of the 27-year veteran, lives in Douglaston, as does his brother, Tom. His sister, Mary, is a Bayside resident.
Ford and Downing were killed when an explosion rocked the area about 30 minutes after the fire started around 2:20 p.m. They were buried under the debris as the facade of the store collapsed.
Fahey was trapped inside the building by the explosion. Although he was in touch with other firefighters by radio, he could not be rescued and was found dead some four hours later.
Vosilla, like Ford and Downey, is believed to have been hit by heavy debris from the explosion as the building facade was blown away. Vosilla, 41, suffered a fractured pelvis, perforated bowel, ruptured bladder and contusions. He was operated on late Sunday and is scheduled for more surgery when able to undergo such procedures, hospital officials said. His condition was listed as critical.
Queens Borough President Claire Shulman visited Vosilla on Monday and met with his family at the hospital, where she attempted to console them. "The tragic loss of three brave firefighters on Father’s Day, a day that should have been a happy one for them and their loved ones, will always be remembered by New Yorkers, especially here in Queens where they worked and died so heroically," she said.
Vosilla, a 10-year-veteran of the department lives not far from Ladder 116 where he works. He was described by neighbors as helpful to everyone and a hardworking guy.
The investigation into the cause of the deadly fire was centering on propane tanks in the basement of the store, although many other flammable products were stored there.
Commissioner von Essen said the store owners had permits for hazardous materials including propane, lacquers, thinners and paints, but added that the permits do not allow the storage of propane in the basement.
But Robin Gordon, one of the owners, disputed von Essen’s assertion, saying no law prohibits storage of small canisters of propane in a basement.
But von Essen says the law allows storage of up to 150 one-pound canisters of propane above ground. The small canisters are used for small torches and stoves. The propane tanks used for barbecue grills are of 20-pound capacity. These cannot be stored in New York City, von Essen said.
Sprinklers were not required to be installed in the store even though residential units were above it. Sprinklers were required for the first time in 1999 to be installed in new residential buildings with four or more units, not in existing residential properties.
But, von Essen said, while the Long Island General Supply Store was not required to install sprinklers because of its age (126 years old), a new hardware store like it built today would require sprinklers.
The Fire Department Bureau of Fire Prevention reportedly inspected the store and building in November and found no violations.