Elderly woman dies in Queens house fire

More than 100 firefighters at the scene
February 25, 2008 8:14:06 PM PST
An 87-year-old woman died in a house fire in Queens Monday. Firefighters say the woman died shortly after the blaze broke out on the first floor and basement of a two-story residential building on Babylon Avenue in the St. Albans section of Queens.

Eyewitness News reporter Lucy Yang has the story.

She was all alone when flames filled her home and smoke filled her lungs. Elderly and unable to walk on her own, she could not put up a fight. Now, her house is in ruins and her family in mourning.

Workers were busy boarding up windows Monday night, while loved ones remained in a state of horrified shock.

Officials say 87-year-old Emma Calendar, a beloved grandmother and matriarch could not save herself from the burning home filled with smoke and flames from the basement to the attic.

"She was found in the living room, sitting in a chair," FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Ferro said. "We're getting preliminary reports that she was disabled...She couldn't get out."

The two-alarm fire broke out around 3 p.m. An off-duty firefighter tried to help, but he apparently could not get past the front door. The flames were just too intense.

Officials say the first truck arrived within four minutes, but it would prove too late. Neighbors remember the victim as everyone's grandmother, who loved flowers and took pride in her summer garden. They say she left the block a more beautiful place.

"In the summer, you'd always see her out there planting her flowers," neighbor Olivene Spence said. "Always buying new ones, so she'd buy some for me. That's how I remember her, always out there planting her flowers.

A firefighters' union official criticized the fire department for initially dispatching only one truck to the building after the alarm sounded.

Uniformed Firefighters Association trustee Stephen Humenesky said two trucks should have been sent to the fire initially because the building's basement and first-floor windows were covered by anti-burglary bars.

Workers on the trucks are charged with forcible entry, removal of victims and ventilation, and the trucks are equipped with ladders, Humenesky said.

The victim, Emma Calendar, was sitting at a first-floor dining-room table when the blaze broke out, union and fire officials said.

"Only God can tell whether this woman would have lived or died" if two trucks had been dispatched initially, Humenesky said. "The department is playing Russian roulette in the way they're dispatching units."

A second truck was sent to the fire three minutes after the first alarm, Humenesky said.

Fire officials "seemed to be violating department policies" by not initially sending two trucks, he said.

The fire department denied that policy was violated and said proper protocol was followed. It said the second truck was sent after a second 911 call was received.

One of the victim's grandsons said she was healthy, strong, energetic and sometimes stubborn. He said witnesses told him firefighters did all they could to save her.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.