Trapped in a Bronx apartment building engulfed in flames, one firefighter volunteered to secure another man’s rope by wrapping it around his body and letting his colleague leap from a window first because he had a wife and children. “There was no place to anchor the rope,” former FDNY firefighter Jeffrey Cool said in court testimony Tuesday, recalling the fatal 2005 fire that led to the deaths of two firefighters and severe injuries to four others, including Joseph DiBernardo. Flames forced all six to take a 50-foot leap from the building.
Because Cool had a wife and kids, DiBernardo insisted Cool go first. At first Cool resisted, then wrapped it around his arm and went out the window. It was his personal rope, made of Kevlar, that he carried in his pocket.
“It was time to go. I took the rope and rolled out the window and the next thing I knew I was hitting the ground . . . ” said Cool, whose injuries forced him to retire from the FDNY.
Cool’s testimony came during the manslaughter trial involving tenants and building officials at the Tremont apartment building where fire Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, and firefighter John Bellew, 37, died Jan. 23, 2005, after jumping from the fourth-floor apartment in a vain attempt to save their lives. Meyran was from Malverne.
The building’s corporate owner, building manager Cesar Rios, 52, and tenants Rafael Castillo, 57, and Caridad Coste, 58, are all charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
They’re accused of turning the building into a death trap by illegally dividing up apartments into a confusing warren of rooms.
Defense lawyers have called their clients scapegoats and pinned the blame on other obstacles firefighters had to overcome — poor communication, fire hydrants frozen shut during the blizzard that hit the city that morning, and no safety ropes.
Indeed, a fire department inquiry concluded there were lapses in equipment and procedures and a breakdown in communication.