ROOSEVELT, N.Y. (PIX11) — A Long Island couple in their late 70s is in the hospital — the wife in critical condition — after a fire engulfed their home, burning it to the ground. Eyewitnesses say, though, that the fire ended up being much more extensive than it needed to be, and that a slow response time by all-volunteer fire companies is the reason why. Fire officials disagree.
The fire, at 30 East Raymond Avenue, sent flames more than twice as high as the single-story structure. It broke out at around 8:45 a.m. Friday, according to neighbors. Fire dispatchers recorded their first dispatch call at 8:46 a.m.
Valentine Chery, who lives directly across the street from the home, came outside out of concern for her neighbors, she said. When she opened her door, she said that she was in disbelief over what she saw.
“There were just sparks flowing out from the house,” she said in an interview after the fire was extinguished.
Nassau County fire officials said that it took 90 minutes to get the flames out at the house, as well as at the house next door, to which the flames spread. Twelve different departments provided mutual aid, according to fire officials.
Shortly after the flames erupted, the man who lives in the house came outside, according to witnesses. They said that he tried to go back in to save his wife, but neighbors told him to stay back, while two younger men tried.
Jose Gomez, who lives next door, in the house that also caught fire, was one of the two hero neighbors who rushed in. Alex Aguilar, who lives next door on the other side of the main house, also helped.
“She was banging at the window,” Gomez said about the scene that unfolded. He said that the woman was at a window at the back of the house. The flames erupted at first from the front.
“I broke the window,” Gomez said. “When I tried to pull her out, she collapsed. I tried to go a little deeper [into the window], but I couldn’t go more deeper, because there was a lot of smoke and fire.”
That smoke and fire ended up not only burning the house next door to the west, where Gomez lives; it also damaged the house next door to the east, where Aguilar, who also tried to pull the woman out, lives.
“Oh, they take so long,” Aguilar said about the fire department response.
He wasn’t the only one to say so.
“The response time to me, personally was long,” said Marie Taylor, a friend of the couple, who also called 911. “I did not know Nassau County did not have paid fire people, which they need to,” she said.
“I was begging and pleading for them to hurry up and send somebody,” she added.
Valentine Chery, the neighbor who recorded video of the scene, also said that the response was too slow. “It took them about 20 minutes for them to arrive there,” she said.
However, Nassau County Chief Fire Marshal Michael Uttaro told PIX11 News in a phone interview that as soon as the call went out, three different departments got dispatched immediately, as per county policy. Almost all of the county’s 71 fire departments are staffed by volunteers.
Nassau police officers, who are paid, showed up within a few minutes, Uttaro said. Firefighters broke down the rear wall of the home, he said, and with police help, they got the woman out. She’s in critical condition. Her husband is in serious condition. Both are at Nassau University Medical Center.