When the fire broke out at Twin Parks North West last month, one tenant there went above and beyond to put a child’s safety before his own.
The Jan. 9 blaze, believed to have been started by a faulty space heater, is the worst fire in the borough since the Happy Land social club arson fire in 1990, which claimed 87 lives. Seventeen people were killed in the Twin Parks fire, including eight children. Since tragedy struck, there have been four separate lawsuits filed against the property owners and the city.
The morning of the fire began as any other day with the fire alarm blaring loudly. Building resident Mahamed Keita told the Bronx Times that it was a common occurrence for about 10 minutes every day until it was turned off. So, when he heard it on Jan. 9, he thought nothing of it and just went back to sleep.
Keita, 26, a substitute teacher at Bronx International High School, who lived on the 16th floor of the Fordham Heights apartment building since December 2020, said about five to 10 minutes later he began to feel heavy smoke in his room. He then rushed to the kitchen to see if there was a fire and when he opened the door to the hallway smoke was everywhere.
He then got his jacket and proceeded to make his way downstairs.
“When I got out to the 16th floor, I just saw smoke,” he said. “I had to get out. I covered my nose and I started running around. I couldn’t see anything.”
As he was walking down the smoke-filled stairs Keita bumped into a lady with two kids on the 12th floor who was asking for help.
“I give her my hand and she gives me her 3-year-old daughter and I cover her nose as they follow me down,” he said. “I didn’t even hesitate. I knew I had to step up and help.”
With his jacket covering her face, he carried the little girl down the smoked filled stairs, all while exposing himself to the toxins. At one point, he lost the mother and her other child, and feared the worst.
Keita, who said he had walked the 16 flights before because the elevators often didn’t work, knew his way down. However, he had never done it without being able to see. That was one of the scariest moments of his life, Keita told the Bronx Times.
“I never knew if I was going to make it through,” he said. “When I first started going towards the lobby no one knew where the fire was. I heard a lot of people screaming, ‘Help, I can’t see anything. I can’t breathe.’ I just heard a lot of people crying.”
He finally made it outside the apartment building with the toddler and nervously waited for her mother. He soon learned that during her attempt to make it downstairs, the mother and her other child broke into an apartment, smashed a window in an effort to allow firefighters to rescue them.
“At first when I didn’t see them, I was terrified,” he said. “(The child) was asking where’s mommy and I was just praying God please for them to come out safely.”
Keita went to the hospital for a few hours and needed to go to a specialist because he was still experiencing headaches from the smoke inhalation.
According to Keita, due to the inadequate heat in the building, people using space heaters was common. And since moving into the building, he said it was always cold forcing him to use his oven for warmth.
Since the fire, Keita has not been able to sleep; he has no plans to return to his apartment and is working with the city to find a new home.
Following the tragic events in January, Keita has since reunited with the mom and her daughter, and was happy to learn that the toddler is doing well. However, he was shocked to learn that a day after the fire, tenants of the building were told to move back in.
“They (the landlord) don’t care about people, they only care about rent,” Keita said. “I’m so mad the landlord is forcing people to move back.”
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.