Screams for help and the sound of doors being pounded shattered the quiet of a Riverside neighborhood early Tuesday as the parents of a badly burned and dying infant desperately sought help after escaping a house fire, authorities said.
Refusing treatment at the scene, the parents were taken by police to Women & Children’s Hospital while their son was rushed there in a Rural/Metro Medical Services ambulance. But time had run out for 6-month-old Savior Lopez. He was pronounced dead on arrival, fire officials said.
Images of the two-alarm blaze, reported at 2:44 a.m., and the damage to three homes on the 300 block of Riverside Avenue haunted neighbors throughout the day as they recalled a wailing mother holding her son and walking in the middle of the street.
“I called 911 after I heard screams for help. A man was running from door to door pounding on the doors looking for help,” neighbor Jennifer Little said. “The mother was in the street holding her baby, standing there, screaming for help, and then moving away from the house.”
The man seeking help, authorities said, was the baby’s father.
By late Tuesday, fire investigators were pretty certain they had identified the cause of the deadly fire at 367 Riverside Ave. An electric fan placed just inside the doorway of Savior’s first-floor bedroom had apparently malfunctioned, according to a high-ranking fire official, who stressed that the investigation is continuing.
The blaze also killed the family’s dog, a 5-month-old husky named Izzy.
One neighbor pointed to bloody handprints on his front door, where the father had been trying to summon help.
“You can see blood where he was pounding on the door,” the resident said, suggesting that the father was injured getting out of the burning house. “I’d heard glass breaking.”
The parents, whose names were withheld, suffered minor injuries, fire officials said.
Neighbor Babette Pearson said she also called 911 after waking to screams coming from the two-story house beside her apartment building at Riverside Avenue and Rano Street.
“I looked out my window, and someone was hanging out a side window of the house. Then I heard a blood-curdling scream from a woman in the house. I thought it was some kind of domestic situation, and I called 911. Then I looked back out the window and could see flames and called 911 again and said, ‘We need the Fire Department,’ ” Pearson said.
The fire was so intense, she added, that she awoke her young daughter and prepared to flee their home at 371 Riverside.
First on the scene were two police officers who neighbors said kicked down the front door of the house at 367 Riverside to determine if others were trapped inside.
“But the family had already self-evacuated,” Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. said.
Little said she directed the officers to the victims.
“I pointed the officers to the mother and her baby who were in the street,” she said.
A rapid response by firefighters spared Pearson and her child from having to evacuate their apartment at 371 Riverside, but residents in the other neighboring residence at 365 Riverside were not as fortunate. They escaped but their home sustained $90,000 in exterior and interior damage.
Damage to the fire-gutted home at 367 Riverside was listed at $105,000, while exterior damage at 371 Riverside was set at $15,000.
Red Cross officials arranged housing assistance for four adults and one child early Tuesday, but additional assistance was expected to be provided. “We do expect the number of people will go up,” Red Cross spokesman Jay Bonafede said.
The fire commissioner sent out condolences to Savior’s parents. “It’s a terrible, terrible tragedy for these parents to lose a child. Our hearts go out to them,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield addressed concerns that Ladder Company 13 at the Hertel Avenue Firehouse was out of service when the first 911 call was received at 2:44 a.m., saying other firefighters arrived promptly.
“The closest firehouse to the scene on Riverside Avenue was Engine 26, located at Tonawanda and Progressive avenues. Engine 26 arrived in just over three minutes of being called, and before any ambulance was on the scene,” Whitfield said.
In addition, a second truck, Engine 36, which shares the Hertel Avenue firehouse with Ladder 13, was the second truck on the scene, the commissioner said. The firehouse is at Hertel and Elmwood.
“It should be noted that the Hertel Avenue firehouse was not closed but Ladder 13, which is also housed at that location, was out of service for the evening,” Whitfield said. “Response time for this incident was not a factor. Unfortunately, nothing could have been done to avoid this tragedy.”
Ladder 13, he explained, was placed out of service because more than five firefighters had called in sick for the citywide overnight shift and under terms of the just-approved firefighters’ contract, the city has the right to shut down a fire company to avoid overtime costs.