Commonwealth Ave. fire unites community in relief efforts

FDNY crews worked in freezing temperatures for hours as they tried to control the blaze.
Photo by Aracelis Batista

While the cause of a 7-alarm fire outside Parkchester that injured 23 people is still under investigation, the community has generously responded to their fellow Bronxites.

The all-engulfing blaze that started on the first floor of the four-story building on 1547 Commonwealth Avenue awoke residents to thick clouds of smoke and flame on Tuesday, January 2.

Though every resident of the property was accounted for and lives were spared, many were left homeless, escaping with the clothes on their backs.

“On the day of the fire, one of our chaplins called me and said her aunt lived in that building and she was on site and the residents needed help,” said Bishop Fernando Rodriguez, president of the Latin African American Chaplins Association.

“I told her to make an assessment of what we need to bring, and we came with 43 coats for adults and children and two pairs of sneakers for two residents who had to escape without footwear.”

Members of the community have been pouring into relief efforts, with many local organizations and elected officials leading the charge.

“Normally you start a new year saying okay we’ve got some good goals, we’re going to do this,” Rodriguez, who also oversees the Fellowship of Christian Churches Light in the Darkness Church, added.

“To see these families that lost everything and come into a new year and have nothing, it’s sad and we just want to be there for them, however we can.”

Rodriguez and newly elected Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. started a clothing drive after the fire and have since given away 50 pairs of pants and shirts and more than 60 pairs of socks and underwear.

“One of the family’s grandsons contacted me because he wanted more information about his grandparents who were displaced because of the fire,” said Community Board 9 district manager William Rivera.

“He was on military active duty and couldn’t make it back here and wanted to know what was happening.”

The community board has helped organize clothing and food drives with local elected officials, like Assemblyman Luis Sepúlveda, but said most of the groundwork is being done by the American Red Cross.

“The system is pretty good because the Red Cross does a pretty good job. We act as the liason between the community and the people who can help them,” Rivera said.

As a result of the Commonwealth Avenue fire, the Red Cross placed eight families with emergency housing at local hotels because they had nowhere else to go, according to Michael de Vulpillieres, the communications officer for the American Red Cross of Greater NY.

Since January 1, the Red Cross has helped nearly 100 people affected by about 20 incidents in the Bronx alone, according to de Vulpillieres.

“I am so thankful that no one was seriously hurt,” said Sepúlveda in a statement the day of the Commonwealth fire. “My heart goes out to the victims… now let’s do as much as we can to help survivors.”

The assemblyman’s office, which was still accepting donations for Puerto Rico’s hurricane relief efforts, is now packed to the ceiling with fire victims donations.

Relief efforts, however, have not stopped at clothing and food drives and supplying temporary housing to the victims of the Parkchester fire, which happened less than a week after the fatal fire on Prospect Avenue.

The FDNY said it has dramatically increased its outreach to communities with their Fire Safety Education and GETALARMED NYC initiatives, according to an FDNY Twitter post.

FDNY also enhanced their Juvenile Fire-setter Intervention Program as a direct response to the Prospect Avenue fire, which was started by a 3-year-old playing with the burners on a stove, according to the department.

Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., in a letter, suggested every apartment building have automatic door closers installed and urged Mayor de Blasio to help make this a reality to prevent future fires from spreading through buildings so quickly.

CB 9 has also set up Fire Safety Seminars and Smoke Alarm Registration events in Soundview at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 18 in the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club and in Parkchester at 7 p.m. on Friday, January 19, in the Promise Land Covenant Church.

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at svalenzuela@cnglocal.com.

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