MONSEY – Firefighters trying to tackle flames and smoke shooting from a large Calvert Drive apartment building were blocked from entering the complex by dozens of boxes stored in a warehouse space among the units.
Authorities said boxes blocked off doors in rooms filled with stored items, forcing firefighters wearing heavy gear in extreme heat to bully their way into the building and to the basement, where officials suspect the fire ignited.
“This can get firemen killed,” Monsey Fire Chief Tony Layman said.
He spoke while standing in the complex’s backyard, which was littered with boxes wrapped in plastic.
“There are tons of violations in this this place,” the chief said.
Rockland Fire Coordinator Gordon Wren Jr. said the owner was using some of the space as a warehouse inside the multi-story building at 18 Calvert Drive. Eighteen Calvert LLC is the listed owner on the Ramapo tax assessor’s website.
Wren said he believed the owner had a wig business in Brooklyn and was storing his goods in the basement and a first-floor apartment. Boxes stacked close to 10 feet high greeted firefighters at the front entrance and lined the hallways.
Firefighters had to unhinge a door to enter. Other firefighters trying to enter the building from the rear found a door there blocked off. Two firefighters used a lifeline around their bodies as they pushed their way into the building, Layman said.
“The fire was burning in the basement and everything was blocked,” Wren said, calling it “extremely dangerous conditions” for both the people living in the building’s apartments and for firefighters.
He noted the basement windows opened to five feet below street level and bars prohibited easy escape.
“No one would be able to get out the basement through those windows,” he said.
Dozens of volunteer firefighters responded to assist Monsey from Hillcrest, Spring Valley, Tallman, Thiells, Suffern and New City. The volunteers were guzzling water to stay hydrated as they contended with the heat from the flames as well as 90-plus degree temperatures.
“Not only was the work very exhausting, the weather took its toll,” Layman said.
Ramapo police sent detectives to investigate along with with Rockland Sheriff’s Office fire Detective Doug Lerner. The Ramapo Building Department also sent in its own inspectors.
Those parties all referred questions to Ramapo Chief Building Inspector Anthony Mallia, who had not returned a telephone message and email.