Probe 911 delay in fatal fire

The fire at 326 Swinton Avenue tore through two floors in the early morning on Friday, July 12.
Photo by Patrick Rocchio

As the son of the late South Bronx poverty baron and city councilman Ramon Velez remained in critical condition after an east Bronx home fire, city officials were probing a reported 911 call foul-up that delayed fire engines for five minutes.

Ramon Velez Jr., 58, was in critical condition from burns and smoke inhalation, his wife dead, and mother-in-law and five-year-old granddaughter injured in an early morning fire that swept through their Schuylerville home.

Funeral services for Enriqueta “Ketty” Velez, 55, were held Friday, July 19 at St. Joan of Arc church, with burial in St. Raymond’s Cemetery.

She was pronounced dead on arrival at Jacobi Hospital , shortly after fire swept through the family’s three-story attached home at 326 Swinton Avenue shortly before 4 a.m.

Firefighters were delayed in responding after a 911 operator allegedly failed to begin entering information electronically and immediately conference the call with an FDNY dispatcher.

By the time firefighters arrived, all four family members were unconscious and in cardiac arrest.

Three of the victims were found in two bedrooms in the home and the fourth was found inside the front doorway,just up the steps from the sidewalk.

Fire officials said the fire appeared to have started near the front door.

Also brought to Jacobi were Velez’ mother-in-law, Marta Morales, 74, and a five-year-old granddaughter, both suffering from smoke inhalation.

The girl was treated and later released, while Morales was listed in stable condition, officials said.

Velez was due to be placed in the hospital’s hyperbaric chamber, which force feeds high amounts of oxygen to deal with smoke inhalation cases.

Jacobi’s Burn Unit is one of just three in New York City, and the eight-patient walk-in Hyperbaric Chamber is unique in its size, and allows patients to be accompanied by clinicians during treatment. Its medical staff and technology at the hospitals are especially well-equipped to treat the most serious burn cases.

Twelve fire rigs and 60 firefighters, as well as city ambulances responded to the scene of the all-hands fire.

“The fire was fast, it was just so quick,” said Cleveland Bradley, a neighbor for 15 years. “That fire moved fast, really quickly.”

William Velez (no relation), 71, who got to the fire scene later, said his aunt who lives next door said she was awakened at about 4 a.m. “by all the noise from the fire engines.

“She heard a lot of crashing sounds and thought someone was breaking into her house.”

He said when she ran outside, “she saw firefighters pulling out the four people who were in the house and tried to revive them. They were rushed to the hospital.”

“The firefighters had a hard time because the fire was in the front of the house.”

Velez’ father, a former city councilmember representing the south Bronx, was perhaps better known as the head of a chain of social service agencies under the umbrella of the Hunts Point Multi-Service Agency during the 1970’s and 80’s that serviced a large population of the struggling borough, while enriching himself through a number of government contracts.

At one point when Ed Koch was mayor he labeled the elder Velez “a poverty pimp,” though Koch later apologized to Velez.

His son now serves as president of the South Bronx Community Management Company Inc., a nonprofit started by the elder Velez that manages apartment buildings.

The elder Velez was also responsible for grooming a future generation of Bronx electeds, including Congressman Jose Serrano and Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo.

He died in 2008 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

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