Burned: Office worker spots flames that Fire Department missed

Burned: Office worker spots flames that Fire Department missed
Photo by Paul Martinka

And the Employee of the Year award goes to…

A medical office worker spotted a fire in a Newkirk Avenue building that fire marshals missed after a blaze on Sept. 13. Firefighters responded to a conflagration at the Newkirk Medical Plaza between Rugby and Marlborough roads at around 11 pm and thought they put it out by 11:30 pm, officials said. Marshals inspected the structure, then let employees in to scope out the damage — but that’s when one of the desk jockeys one-upped New York’s Bravest and spotted a flame still burning in the ceiling, a building manager said.

“One of the employees, the office staff who was with us, noticed in the ceiling, heard crackling sounds and noticed open flames, so the fire marshal commanded all us to leave to evacuate and called the fire department back,” said Yehuda Miller. “If not for that walk-through that we did, the fire marshal said it’s a very good chance — because there were no working smoke detectors anymore — by the time that would have been detected, the flames would have been so big the entire block would have been burnt down.”

A department spokesman called Miller’s account hearsay and said the agency is still investigating.

But Miller does not blame the department or firefighters — six of whom were hospitalized for minor injuries while battling the inferno — for the oversight.

“At this point right now, when I just watched six firefighters who had minor injuries fighting the blaze, I only want to thank the FDNY for their work and their self-sacrifice and the amazing job they do,” he said.

Smoke eaters quelled the fire for good by 5 am, a department spokesman said.

And police cuffed a guy for allegedly setting the blaze — cops say the firebug broke in around 11 pm and lit the place up.

Miller called the cops after the office’s high-tech, cellphone-video security system sensed the prowler, he said.

“We have an alarm system and we got notified on my iPhone that there was activity going on at the building,” Miller said. “I see this guy walking around in the building who clearly shouldn’t have been there. I called the police — and I saw him going up this hallway and then I see him going to the rear going out the back door. They sent the officers right to the back and they caught him at the door.”

The plaza houses an occupational and physical therapy office, primary care center, orthopedic office, and an obstetrics and gynecology office — all damaged by the flames, which took 106 firefighters to extinguish, a fire department spokesman said.

But the women’s health office was scorched worst, and Miller believes that may have been part of the suspect’s motive, he said.

“The section for women’s health was the one damaged the most and it appears as though that was the target,” Miller said. “Everyone in the building has to relocate. The whole building is not workable. It’s absolutely horrible.”

Police charged the man with burglary, arson, reckless endangerment, and criminal trespass, officials said.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.