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Only blocks from the charred home on Bedford Avenue in the Midwood section of Brooklyn where the Sassoon family resided for the last two years, members of the FDNY’s Safety Education Outreach Program set up a table to distribute smoke detectors, batteries and literature in both English and Hebrew.
The sheer magnitude of the massive fire that sent shock waves around the world renewed attention among Orthodox Jews on safety risks linked to the Sabbath and holiday observances that are compounded by the ages of the homes and a lack of working carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors. Most of the homes in Midwood were built in the early 1900s, before construction was subject to more stringent fire-safety laws, according to a report in the New York Times.
It was the city’s fourth deadly fire in 15 years sparked by hot plates or use of ritual candles, according to the Jewish Forward newspaper, including a 2000 fire in Williamsburg that killed the grand daugther of the Satmar Grand Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum and her 5-month old baby.
FDNY Caption Kevin Anderson said while talking with passersby at the table that, “We’re not here to be opportunistic. We do feel people in the neighborhood are more willing to listen now.”
Along with stoves and hot plates, he said, the community faced constant threats from overloaded electrical sockets and frayed wires on air-conditioners. He told his visitors to check hot plate cords regularly for cracks. The devices, he said, should not be plugged into thin extension cords or set near anything flammable, according to published reports.
Captain Anderson added that, “You have to respect everyone’s beliefs — we go to an awful lot of Christmas tree fires. We can follow our religious beliefs, but we can do it safely.”
Although smoke alarms are required on every floor of a home, according to a Fire Department spokesman, the New York Times reported the Sassoon home only had a smoke alarm in the basement.
On Monday, March 23, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams was joined by elected officials and Orthodox Jewish community leaders as he announced a borough-wide fire safety education campaign. The effort will include the dissemination of fire safety instructions in a multitude of languages; (including Yiddish) designed to accommodate the needs of non-English speakers throughout the city
As he held a smoke detector aloft, Adams told those assembled that, “It is our goal to really turn a pain into purpose..Our goal is to educate and re-educate. This one device is the difference between life and death.” Smoke detectors were being sold for $1 at the specially organized event.
Moreover, Adams said that fliers detailing precise fire safety instructions will be distributed to the public at subway stations, malls and other heavily populated locations across the borough. “When we look at the stats, Brooklyn has almost 30% of the fires that take place in the city,” Adams said, adding that there were more than 2,000 fires in Brooklyn just in 2014.
What was most telling is that Adams called for the creation of a specialized burn center facility in Brooklyn which is in desperate need of one. In the case of the Sassoon family, Mrs. Gayle Sassoon was brought to Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx and her daughter Siporah was brought to Staten Island University North Hospital. “You can’t have the largest borough in the city of New York go without a burn center,” Adams said.
Holding back tears, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said out of this tragedy should come something hopeful.
“Together we will empower, we will educate, engage all of our neighbors and friends about fire safety, so this never happens again,” she said. “This is a community effort. And this is about the power of prayer and the power of action and education.”
Bklyn Boro Pres Focuses on Fire Safety Following Midwood Blaze