Fire ravages multiple buildings in Newburgh; union official says short staff is hurting response times

Flames and heavy smoke could be seen billowing from the two-story apartment homes, engulfing the area in chaos.

Lisa LaRocca

Apr 9, 2024, 10:22 AM

Updated 47 days ago

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Twenty-four people, some children, were displaced late Monday evening when a fire quickly overcame two homes that were about three feet apart.
Yamileth Ochoa, her children and cousins were displaced by Monday night's fire. She said that as the fire jumped from her neighbor's house to her family's house, she and her cousin alerted the rest of their extended family and their neighbors.
"I came down here. I started banging on their windows. I said, 'You guys have to get out. It's a fire," Ochoa said, adding that the fire seemed to move quickly.
Firefighters have tried to convince city administrators to schedule more staff, at least during the overnight hours, to improve the department's response times. City Manager Todd Venning recently lowered the number of firefighters for each shift to be more efficient with staff and the city's money.
The changes, though, do not allow firefighters to immediately and simultaneously bring multiple vehicles to a fire scene, firefighters' union vice president Marquis Taylor said. They must instead call in off-duty city firefighters and request mutual aid from other nearby departments.
Taylor told News 12 Tuesday the administration's staffing changes have caused fire crews to lose valuable time, sometimes minutes, waiting for other first responders to arrive on scene.
"It's for our safety, and for the safety of the public," he said of the union's push to reverse some of the staffing changes.
Taylor said the Easter Sunday's fire on Lutheran Street that affected five buildings also spread quickly and may have involved an accelerant being used on the back porch of a vacant home.
"With both of these fires, having an extra engine in service would have changed the outcome," he said. "How much? We can't say. But it definitely would have changed the outcome."
City administrators said in a press release Tuesday that the Red Cross is offering to temporarily house some of those displaced by Monday night's fire in hotel rooms.
Last Sunday's fire on Lutheran Street displaced 33, including three infants.
Both fires are under investigation.
News 12 reached out to city administrators for comment regarding the union's claims about staffing, safety and damage. They have not yet responded.


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