||Bravest Recounts How He Narrowly Escaped Bronx Black Sunday Hell|
Publicado - Published: 15/01/2009
NEW YORK (MELISSA GRACE and DAVE GOLDINER / DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS).- A hero firefighter recounted the fiery "hell" of a burning Bronx apartment and how a pal helped him escape the deadly Black Sunday inferno.
"It was starting to be like hell in there," Jeffery Cool, 41, said Tuesday. "I had to get out of there."
As raging raging flames licked at his skin, Cool and five other men started leaping out windows 50 feet above a concrete courtyard, he told a rapt courtroom.
"I'm getting burned. I can feel the fire coming up my leg [and] up my back," Cool said as his wife clutched the hand of a colleague's widow. "I'm thinking about my wife, my kids."
Fellow Firefighter Joseph DiBernardo bravely told Cool to jump first because Cool had a family.
A split-second later, Cool grabbed one end of a rope and "rolled" out the window.
"I remember hitting the ground," Cool said. "I was in a world of hurt. I was in the worst pain I thought I could ever find myself in."
Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, and firefighter John Bellew, 37, died in the Jan. 23, 2005 blaze.
Cool's harrowing account came at the trial of two tenants accused of manslaughter for chopping up their apartments into a warren of rooms. The building's owner and manager face the same charges.
Cool and three others were badly hurt when they plunged to the concrete courtyard behind the building on E. 178th St.
The firefighter from the elite Rescue 3 unit said he arrived at the burning building after several other men raced inside Apartment 4-L in search of possible victims.
Armed with a heat-detecting device, Cool quickly realized the inferno was raging behind a wall.
"I said, 'I got to get to these guys,'" he said. "They don't know the fire is behind them."
"Hey, brother we got to go," Cool told one of his doomed fellow firefighters, whom he couldn't recognize because of the thick smoke and searing heat.
By then, the flames cut off all the men in "blackout" conditions inside the room, which had no fire escape.
"I looked around and there was fire, floor to ceiling," he said. "Everywhere you look, there is fire."
"The fire is enveloping the room," he said. "I got knocked over ... there was 'mayday' after 'mayday.'"
Cool kept hoping rescuers would arrive to douse the flames, but the fire spread way too fast.
"I'm thinking someone has got to come and get us," he said. "But that didn't happen."
Facing a life-or-death decision, Cool told DiBernardo he had a rope that could help one of them get out. The only problem was, there was nothing to tie it to.
"Joey, I got a rope," Cool said.
"Jeff, you got a wife and kids," DiBernardo replied, grabbing the other end of the rope. "You go first."
DiBernardo also jumped and suffered severe injuries.
After hitting the ground, Cool said he remembers nothing until about a month later when he woke up in a bed at St. Barnabas Hospital.
He was forced to retire with "two pages of injuries," he said.
"I wish I could [return to work]," he said. "My dream was always to be a firefighter."
Defense lawyers blame the firefighters' deaths on the chaotic response to the blaze and noted that personal ropes like the one Cool had could have saved lives.
On cross-examination, Cool admitted he sued the city in part over its decision to discontinue use of the ropes.