FDNY Rescue Woman Dangling From 20th-Story Window Of Manhattan High-Rise
Firefighters rescued a desperate woman hanging from a window 20 stories above the street as dozens of people were trapped inside a Manhattan high-rise Saturday in a massive blaze that was sparked by an e-bike battery, the Fire Department said.
The smoky blaze reported at about 10:30 a.m. injured 38 people, including five firefighters, said FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. Two tenants of the building at 429 E. 52nd St. had life-threatening injuries.
Two dozen residents escaped to the roof of the smoke-filled building, between First Ave. and Sutton Place — and ended up stranded there, as firefighters battled the blaze 17 stories below, on the building’s 20th floor.
The fire broke out when a lithium-ion battery attached to an e-bike exploded by the front door of a 20th-floor apartment, said FDNY Chief Fire Marshall Daniel Flynn.
Two tenants unable to escape by the front door — their only way out of the apartment — instead tried to go out a window.
Video posted to Twitter showed a woman hanging from a window ledge of the apartment as the blaze raged inside. Her left arm was wrapped in a drape, said witness Ken Gunsberger.
“(There were) massive amounts of smoke coming out of a window,” Gunsberger said. “(The tenants were) literally choking from smoke.
The women hung on for her life for five minutes, Gunsberger said. “I didn’t know how she was going to stay there,” he said. “I’m like, ‘If they don’t grab her, that’s it.’”
The rescue was “a Herculean team effort” that involved lowering four firefighters with ropes from the apartment just above the site of the blaze, said FDNY Chief Frank Leeb.
A firefighter from Ladder 16, Belvon Koranteng, was lowered down to the apartment first, “and got valuable intelligence,” Leeb said — including the fact that the dangling woman’s clothes were caught on the apartment’s window guard, which is meant to protect children from falling.
Then, Firefighter Artur Podgorski, also from Ladder 16, hanging from a rope, grabbed hold of the woman. He and another firefighter hanging from a rope freed her from the window guard, Leeb said.
Then Podgorski and his colleague were lowered with the woman to colleagues waiting at the open window of an apartment one floor below.
Firefighters used the lifesaving rope to pull one more tenant from the burning apartment. A third person in the apartment was rescued from the inside as the blaze was knocked down, said Leeb.
A rope rescue “is a last resort in the FDNY,” said Leeb. “It was an incredibly dangerous situation, to put our members on a rope from the 20th floor,” he added. “Training and preparation is what it’s all about.”
“It was 100% teamwork,” said Darren Harsch, one of the four firefighters who roped down to the scene. “It’s an extremely rare type of rescue to put four members on a rope. Today is pretty special.”
The rescued women were handed to the care of EMS workers, who took them from the scene “within a few minutes,” Leeb said.
“Our firefighters, EMS and dispatch did an extraordinary job rescuing civilians, including an incredible roof rope rescue,” said Kavanagh. “I cannot emphasize enough the incredible work that they did today.”
Other firefighters went door to door to evacuate the building, while 911 dispatchers responded to numerous calls of people trapped in their apartments.
On the 20th floor near the apartment where the blaze broke out, resident Craig Geller was awakened by his parents, who were visiting from Florida. “I did not hear an alarm,” Geller said.
Firefighters “told us to shelter in place for a while and put wet towels under the door,” Geller said.
As Geller and his parents waited for help, the “smoke kept getting much more thick,” he remembered.
“It was pretty terrifying,” he said. “Then the firefighters came, and we went down the stairs — but they were wet, and my father tripped. So now he’s in the hospital.”
Fire Marshal Flynn said a tenant in the apartment where the fire erupted ran a business repairing e-bikes and scooters. Charging e-bike or micro-mobility device batteries are blamed in nearly 200 apartment fires so far this year, he said.
“We recovered at least five e-bikes from this apartment,” the Flynn said.
Firefighters responded to the building within three minutes, Flynn said — but the fire was already raging, said Flynn.
That is common with lithium-ion battery fires, Flynn said — the batteries quickly erupt into flames.
“When they do go on fire, they are so intense that all combustibles in the area will catch fire,” Flynn said.
“This is not what we have seen traditionally where fires are slow to develop. We are encountering a fully developed fire when firefighters arrive on the scene.”
Fires sparked by lithium-ion batteries are responsible for six deaths so far this year, Flynn said..
There have been twice as many e-bike and e-scooter battery fires so far this year than in all of 2021, the Fire Department says. Last year, 104 fires were sparked by lithium-ion batteries, resulting in 79 injuries and four deaths.