Queens Chronicle 6/5/10
by Elizabeth Daley
A blaze broke out at a pet store in Astoria on Memorial Day just before 5 p.m., injuring firefighters when the roof of the building partially collapsed.
Five firefighters were taken to the hospital and numerous cats, dogs and other animals were rescued from the burning one-story building on Steinway Street. However, according to Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), the blaze might have been prevented if pet stores were required to have sprinkler systems.
City law only requires sprinklers in buildings over 100 feet tall, even if the buildings hold pets.
Since pet stores are a special category of business, they are regulated by New York State laws, Vallone said.
“The next step is for Albany to mandate sprinklers in all pet stores, and if they don’t do it, I will. No more animals should die because pet store owners are too cheap to install sprinklers,” he said. “It’s Albany’s fault as usual.”
According to the Fire Department, the animals rescued from the store were taken to the ASPCA. The store’s birds, highly susceptible to smoke inhalation, perished, according to Vallone.
“Once again we are reminded of the exceptional bravery of our firefighters under the most extreme circumstances — their swift actions saved the lives of helpless caged pets,” he said. “However, even more animals may have been saved if our firefighters hadn’t been delayed by a solid security gate.”
According to the FDNY, opaque roll-down gates often make it hard to locate the source of a fire.
Vallone said firefighters from Ladder 116 in Long Island City and Engine Company 262 in Astoria responded to numerous 911 calls, which gave multiple addresses for the pet shop fire. Callers were not able to give an exact address for the fire, because solid roll-down security gates on several storefronts blocked their view.
Upon arriving on Steinway Street, between Broadway and 31st Avenue, Vallone said firefighters were forced to waste valuable time trying to discern the location of the fire before entering U.S. Pets, which was also blocked by a solid roll-down security gate.
Firefighters located the fire by searching the back of the building, which offered the only visible path into the store. After cutting security locks and forcing their way in, firefighters were able to save almost all of the animals.
Incidents such as this one led Vallone to create legislation requiring all roll-down gates installed on storefronts after July 11, 2011 to offer at least 70 percent visibility. The law was passed last year.
Vallone said the FDNY and NYPD have been longtime supporters of this legislation since it improves safety conditions for them. First-responders often do not know where the danger lies when called to a location blockedby asolid security gate, as was clearly evident in this case, Vallone said in a statement.
One firefighter was sent to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center with second degree burns on his neck and four others were taken to Astoria General Hospital with minor injuries, according to the FDNY.
Vallone will present two firefighters from Engine Company 262 who were injured during the blaze with citations.
He said the fire has inspired him to co-sponsor legislation mandating sprinklers in any establishment that houses animals for a 24-hour period.