Newburgh authorities at odds over fire that killed mother, injured son
Newburgh authorities appear to be at odds over what went wrong in a deadly fire that killed a mother and injured her son, while the victim’s family is speaking out for the first time since the tragedy.
Debra Benedict, 64, spent her final moments trying to escape smoke and flames through a tiny, third-story window of her apartment in Newburgh.
Her son, James, found out that his mother died Wednesday night miles away in Texas, where he now lives.
“No one deserves to go out the way she did,” said James Benedict.
His 29-year-old brother, Justin, was with their mother that night and remains hospitalized with burns and broken bones after jumping from the burning building on Lander Street.
“If you’re going to cut budgets in cities, don’t go to first responders,” said Benedict. “Don’t take away from the ones out there risking their lives to save others.”
The kitchen fire has renewed concerns about city codes and recent cutbacks to the fire department to save money – that lowered the number of firefighters on duty this year from ten members to seven.
An exhausted-looking City of Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey said on Facebook live Thursday that manpower wasn’t a factor in the deadly blaze and blamed problems on a delayed call for help and overhead wires.
“I will not engage, and neither will the city council, in finger-pointing and political bantering,” said City of Newburgh Mayor, Torrance Harvey.
City of Newburgh firefighters, like Lt. Dany Camacho, disagree.
“It absolutely was a manpower issue,” said Camacho. “These guys sat there feeling helpless.”
Camacho says first responding firefighters got to the scene within one minute with a ladder truck and no way to fight the flames shooting from the windows.
They say by the time the remaining three firefighters on duty arrived with a water engine from their second firehouse across the city it was too late.
“We need the proper staffing or unfortunately, things like this can happen again,” said Camacho.
A GoFundMe page has been started to help Debra’s son, James, fly home from Texas to help take care of his brother in the hospital and make funeral arrangements for his mother.