Jury awards $183 million in 'Black Sunday' Bronx blaze that killed firefighters

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A New York City jury has awarded $183 million to five firefighters or their families in a case stemming from a 2005 tenement blaze on a day known as "Black Sunday."

The jury on Monday found the city 80 percent responsible for the deaths and injuries, while the building's landlord was found liable for 20 percent.

Firefighters Gene Stolowski, Jeffrey Cool and Brendan Cawley survived the tragedy, but continue to suffer from life-changing and permanent injuries.

"The scars run deep," Cool said.

There are physical scars on Cool's body as well as mental anguish.

He has survivor's guilt over the darkest day in the FDNY since 9/11.

It was January 2005 when six firemen jumped from a fourth story window in the Bronx.

It was the only option to escape a wall of flames that had pinned them inside an illegally subdivided apartment.

"My thermal imaging camera melted into my gear, that's how much heat I took, but by the grace of God I'm here today," Cool said.

Lt. Curtis Meyran and John Bellew did not make it. Joseph DiBernardo died six years later of complications from injuries suffered in the fall.

Cool, a decorated firefighter with Rescue 3, broke virtually every bone in his body.

Monday, a jury awarded the families $183 million.

"There is no dollar figure that you are ever going to tell me that's the value of Joey's life, it's the value of John's life, or to make me whole again," Cool said.

Cool was likely saved by his unsanctioned safety rope which shortened the distance he fell.

The FDNY's policy at the time to not issue personal ropes as standard gear was at the heart of the judgement, one of the largest against the city.

"They made a stupid decision, there's no other nicer way to say it, they took our ropes away on a knee-jerk reaction and not thought through," Cool said.

The city is considering an appeal, Cool is hoping otherwise for the sake of closure.

"The city has always viewed this incident as a tragedy for the firefighters and their families, but we believe that the jury's verdict does not fairly apportion liability in view of compelling evidence that established that the landlord's numerous building code violations were directly responsible for this horrible event," they said in a statement.

"The book is always going to be open, but we could close that chapter if you will and move on with our lives," Cool said.

Cool has started a foundation promoting firefighter safety and served on a task force fighting illegal housing in Rockland County.

It's advocacy work he says he will continue to do.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
Copyright © 2019 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.