SPRING VALLEY, Rockland County (WABC) -- One person is dead and a firefighter missing after a massive blaze tore through an assisted living facility in Spring Valley, injuring several others and prompting dozens of middle-of-the-night rescues.
"We have numerous teams looking through the rubble," Rockland County Director of Fire and Emergency Services Chris Kear said.
The flames broke out inside the Evergreen Court For Adults on Lafayette Street just after 1 a.m. Tuesday. Between 20 and 25 residents were rescued by firefighters from what was described as a chaotic scene.
Ten were taken to area hospitals for treatment, and one was later pronounced dead.
A portion of the building collapsed as firefighters battled the blaze, ad the missing firefighter is believed to have been on the third floor, Kear said.
He rushed into the burning building to rescue residents, and officials believe he became disoriented and could not find his way out.
"The extent of the fire, the volume of fire, the conditions, were just too unbearable where firefighters went in it, and they just could not locate the firefighter, and they had to back out," Kear said.
He was one of the first on the scene and transmitted a mayday, but other firefighters were unable to rescue him.
First responders are searching for him, using a mini excavator to clear the rubble.
"We have a general idea, where we feel that he is," Kear said. "However, it's painstaking. It's digging by hand till you can't dig by hand no more."
Two other firefighters were injured, one of whom appeared to have suffered a medical condition, possibly a heart attack. The other was treated and released.
All of the firefighters in Rockland County are volunteers. When they aren't risking their lives, they're postal workers, bakers, cops and small business owners.
Many displaced residents were taken in buses to nearby facilities.
One resident was initially reported as missing, but all residents have since been accounted for.
"We believe they are, but again we are double-checking, we are triple checking, to make sure," Kear said.
It took more than six hours to get the fire under control, and firefighters spent the day battling "a ton of hot spots" and have been struggling with water supply problems.
The facility, which offers assisted living, nursing home facilities, and continuing care for older adults, is a total loss.
Denise Kerr, director of the Evergreen Court Home for Adults, released the following statement Tuesday.
"This is an unspeakable tragedy at Evergreen Court Home and our hearts and prayers go out to all individuals and families who have been impacted. We join the community in mourning the loss of our resident who passed away and pray for the safety of the missing firefighter. We are fully cooperating with all state and local authorities in the investigation of this fire and are conducting our own internal investigation as well. Our staff was truly heroic in evacuating residents who were inside the building as the fire spread, and we are forever grateful to the first responders whose actions undoubtedly saved lives. All 112 residents at Evergreen Court Home are accounted for and have been placed in a new home. We are currently in the process of contacting their families. Anyone who wishes to reach us to inquire about a family member can call 973-378-1997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org."
U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones said he was horrified to learn of the fire in his hometown of Spring Valley.
"I am deeply saddened by the death of a resident of the Evergreen facility, and I am praying that the firefighter who bravely risked his life to save dozens of individuals trapped inside will be found safe and alive," the first-term Democrat said in a statement.
About 125 firefighters from many agencies worked to get the fire under control. Investigators worked to determine the cause of the fire.
Because of the extensive damage, "It's going to take quite a while to get to the root cause," Kear said.
Local leaders are calling on residents to donate clothing and toiletries to those affected by the fire.
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