By Carol Tannenhauser
The FDNY arrived at last Friday night’s four-alarm fire on Amsterdam Avenue, between 84th and 85th streets, in roughly three to five minutes, but they were not the first responders. Already racing through two neighboring five-story, residential rental buildings – alerting the tenants to get out – were three employees of e’s Bar, located at street level. One carried a fire extinguisher.
“The original plan was to put the fire out,” laughed Brady Byrnes, 31, e’s manager, not knowing then that it would ultimately take 170 firefighters more than three hours to do so. Byrnes had something else on his mind, too. “I was thinking about this little boy – a red-headed kid who comes into the bar all the time and gets these carroway chips and water,” he said. “I know he lives on the 5th floor, so, when we ran in, I said we need to make sure that family’s out.”
“The first thing we encountered was a guy on the third floor who came running into the hallway, yelling, “There’s a fire in my apartment!’” recalled Ralph Green, e’s bartender. “The second he ran over to us, his door closed behind him and he screamed, ‘My keys are inside and my cat!’ He kept screaming, “My cat, my cat, my cat!” I’m still sick about it,” Green said. “I felt the door and it was red hot. I kicked it and my sneaker melted. Smoke started billowing out from underneath and the sides.”
“We didn’t know what’s going on in there,” said Eduardo Velasco, 38, a runner at e’s Bar, who was part of the rescue. “We just tried everything to let people know what’s going on, yell, “Fire! Get out of the building!”
On the fifth floor, around six p.m., Steve Munroe, 31, was finishing up a day of working from home, when he heard the commotion in the hallway and a muffled yell of, “Fire!” “There was no smoke, no smell, nothing seemed out of the ordinary,” he said, “but I instinctively grabbed my cat and my laptop, and, as I made my way down the stairs, I encountered the guys from e’s bar coming up the stairs.”
Byrne went to the boy’s apartment and kicked in the door. He laughed again when asked if he was a “kicking in doors kind of guy.” “Door probably weighs more than I do,” he said. “I was running on adrenaline. Thank goodness the family wasn’t home. But there’s no going back to their apartment,” said Erin Ballard, co-owner of e’s Bar. “It’s one of the ones that’s completely gone, down to the rafters.”
“You never think it will happen to you,”’said Kim Cooper, the little boy’s mother, standing in e’s Bar on Monday, where generators are working nonstop to dry things out and the smell of burnt wires – allegedly, the cause of the fire – is still strong. E’s plans to hold a benefit for the victims of the fire as soon as they re-open — that could take about four weeks as they are in the process of replacing their ceiling, which was damaged by water.
“All we have is what we had on our backs,” Cooper said, “and those were spring things, because it was that 70-degree day! I’m wearing my friend’s husband’s coat! I look homeless. I am homeless, but I don’t feel it. I feel very loved.”
Our heroes feel that way, too. Social and other media lauded their selflessness. But Eduardo’s wife put it best when he arrived home the morning after the fire. “I love you very much,” she said. “You are my hero. Never, never do that again!”
Photo by Carol Tannenhauser.