What started as a porch fire resulted in four homes burning in the City of Newburgh last night. Homes were evacuated as crews worked for over one hour to bring the massive fire under control. As crews were operating at the three-alarm fire, two additional emergencies occurred in the city. One included a truck that careened down an embankment and was fully engulfed in flames while the other involved a possible carbon monoxide leak. SEE A VIDEO CONTAINING RADIO AUDIO BELOW.
The chaos began unfolding at 9:47pm on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, when the City of Newburgh Fire Department was dispatched to a report of a porch on fire at 210 North Miller Street.
City of Newburgh officials closed an entire engine company early last year, leaving just one pumper and one ladder truck without water to respond to the incident. In addition to the incident commander and the apparatus operators, only four interior firefighters were on duty to battle the blaze.
The incident commander arrived and reported that a two-story, multi-family house had heavy fire on the first and second floors. Radio transmissions were frequently overrun by residents screaming and crying in the background. He also reported that the fire had spread to 212 North Miller Street.
The four firefighters were tasked with connecting their only water pumper to a fire hydrant, evacuating nearby homes, ventilating the buildings, searching for trapped victims, fighting the fire, and protecting other buildings from catching fire. The incident commander ordered a second alarm to be transmitted and for off-duty City of Newburgh firefighters to be called in on overtime.
City of Newburgh firefighters were heard on their radios during several tense moments as the fire continued to spread and included four buildings. Less than ten minutes into the initial dispatch, all four firefighters were inside of the buildings with heavy fire reported as neighboring companies were still responding.
The fire continued to spread and involved 208 North Miller Street, 210 North Miller Street, 212 North Miller Street, and 55 Gidney Avenue.
The Air National Guard Fire Department left their post protecting Stewart International Airport to respond with a pumper. The West Point Fire Department also left their post covering the military academy to respond with an additional pumper. Once the Air Guard arrived, they were put to work helping to search the buildings for victims – more than 20 minutes after the original dispatch.
Volunteer fire departments from neighboring towns were called in to protect the City of Newburgh. The Middle Hope Fire Department from the Town of Newburgh was called with a ladder truck to cover any other calls in the City of Newburgh. They were unable to assemble a crew. The Cronomer Valley Fire Department, also of the Town of Newburgh, covered all calls in the city with a pumper while the Cornwall-on-Hudson Fire Department stood by with a ladder truck.
The incident commander later declared the incident a third alarm as a slew of off-duty City of Newburgh firefighters were called in on overtime to fill multiple fire trucks that were unmanned.
The Cornwall-on-Hudson and Cronomer Valley Fire Departments were then called to 278 Liberty Street for a report of carbon monoxide in the residence. The outcome of that call is not readily available.
Some City of Newburgh firefighters were forced to leave the three-alarm fire to respond along with neighboring fire departments to a truck fire beneath the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. Firefighters arrived to find a truck down an embankment near the railroad tracks. The vehicle was fully engulfed in fire and the driver allegedly fled the scene.
The Newburgh City Council has frequently stated during previous meetings that they do not wish for city firefighters to “double their salaries” by working overtime despite having only four interior firefighters on duty. This was at least the second time that off-duty firefighters overtime was called in for house fires in just three days.
On Sunday, May 14, 2023, City of Newburgh firefighters battled a two-alarm fire on South Street (story here). Six residents were left homeless as city firefighters maxed out the water supply on their only pumper on duty and had to wait for help to come from other municipalities.
City Council members have continuously insisted that there is no shortage of firefighters and blamed the public for being misinformed.
“There is no shortage” of firefighters, Councilwoman Ramona Monteverde said during the May 8, 2023 council meeting. “Basically, people are just uninformed about this,” she added. “We know that public safety is our number one priority.”
In recent months, several residents were silenced by Mayor Torrance Harvey when they showed up at multiple council meetings and criticized city leaders for not keeping more firefighters on duty (see a list of stories here).
The cause of the original house fire on North Miller Street is under investigation.