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Broken Door Traps Family Inside Rental Apartment During Kitchen Fire. Does the Building Have Legal Liability?

On May 4, 2012, New York City police rescued five people, including a baby boy and another child, who were trapped in a smoky kitchen fire in Rockaway Beach, NY because they could not open a jammed apartment door.

A police sergeant on another call spotted a 21-year-old man leaning out of a smoke-filled sixth-floor window in a public housing project about 7 p.m. The man was yelling, “Help! There’s children inside!”

The police officers and members of the city’s Emergency Services Unit team went to the sixth-floor apartment, but found that the door lock was broken inside the door, so the door would not open. Trapped inside were a baby, a boy, their mom, and two visitors, as a kitchen fire raged. The blaze had begun as a grease fire in the kitchen, at the front of the apartment.

One policeman used a hydraulic drill to force the door open at the frame. Police eventually got the door to open, but by that time the apartment was thick with smoke as flames crawled up the walls of the kitchen, just to the left of the front door. Some of the officers began dousing the flames with pots of water, while others dropped to their hands and knees and went in search of the people trapped further inside.

“As we crawled, we did everything by feel–there was no visibility,” said one officer. “We inhaled a lot of smoke. But we had to search the rooms. There was quite a bit of panic by the residents because it was very heavy smoke. We had to get out real quickly.”

A baby boy, 19 months old, and an 8-year-old boy were treated for smoke inhalation at Jamaica Hospital. Two women, ages 19 and 22, were also treated at the same hospital. The 21-year-old man was also treated for a hand injury and smoke inhalation. Also, 11 cops were taken to Long Island Jewish Hospital for smoke inhalation but later released.

The police investigation into the fire will determine if the building was at fault for negligence because the door lock was broken and caused the door to be inoperable.

If you or someone you know suffers an injury such as third degree burns or smoke inhalation, you should call Kramer & Pollack LLP in Mineola, New York so that the personal injury attorneys in that firm can determine whether another party has legal liability for injuries suffered, and if the injured party has a strong legal case.