Fire Rescue Albany New York 2 Children
Braving Blinding Smoke, Albany, New York Firefighters Rescue Two Children

Story courtesy Times Union, Albany, New York

Two children were critically injured when a fire swept through their babysitter's Orange Street apartment early Monday morning.

With neighbors screaming, "There are kids inside," firefighters rushed in and, crawling on their hands and knees to keep below the thick smoke, searched desperately for the kids.

Moments later, Firefighter Lt. Bill VonDollen and Firefighter Jack Moran pulled a 4-year-old girl and her 2-year-old brother out of the first-floor apartment at 306 Orange St.

Chastity Townsend was in respiratory arrest and Joseph Folds in cardiac arrest, suffering from smoke inhalation. The two, in critical condition, were taken to Albany Medical Center Hospital and quickly flown to the burn unit at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.

The siblings had spent the weekend with Elnora Anderson, who has three children of her own, said public safety spokesman James Miller. Anderson and her children got out of the home. In the second-floor apartment, a mother with three children smelled smoke and got out with minor smoke inhalation and cuts, possibly from breaking glass. Their conditions were not life-threatening, he said.

"Apparently the mother dropped off fresh clothing for the kids at 5 a.m. (Monday)," Miller said.

Two hours later, the two-family home in the Sheridan Hollow section was enveloped in heavy smoke. Flames were shooting out of the rear. Police Officer Sean Slingerland arrived first and went into the burning building. But the smoke was too heavy, and without equipment, he felt it was too dangerous and left, Miller said. Slingerland was treated for smoke inhalation.

The first firefighters on the scene were from the city's Rescue Squad, which is dispatched to every call. Its main function is to find and bring out people from burning buildings. Those on duty Monday at their Arbor Hill station were an hour from ending their shift when the alarm sounded at 6:58 a.m. They arrived at the home a minute later.

Four rescue workers went in through the front door: VonDollen, Moran, and firefighters James LaFore and Peter Lennox. The smoke was thick, and the most they could see was "maybe at arm's length," VonDollen said.

VonDollen and Moran were in front and worked as a team. "I actually found the little girl right inside the dining room on the floor," said VonDollen, who has 15 years of service. "I would imagine she tried to get out and only got halfway there."

"I picked her up and carried her out," he said. "Jack Moran kept going on in, and he found the little boy on the bed in a bedroom across from the bathroom."

After VonDollen passed off the little girl to paramedics, he ran back in. Moran, a firefighter for 17 years, had already found the boy and immediately took him to an ambulance. LaFore and Lennox finished searching the first floor.

The rescue firefighters are so skilled they even know the layouts of most homes. This two-family home was set up like many others in the area, and the firefighters knew the rooms and where to look despite the smoke, VonDollen said. He and Lennox searched the upstairs apartment, but everyone had gotten out.

By late Monday, the children's conditions were not being provided by the Westchester County hospital. The hospital has hyperbaric chambers to reverse the effects of carbon monoxide.

"We can't release any information because we haven't been able to confirm the release with the parents," hospital spokeswoman Tina Dorfman said. "We don't release conditions on children without parental permission, and we haven't gotten that permission yet." Dorfman refused to say if the parents were at the hospital.

The fire's cause has not been determined, but it started in the first-floor kitchen, Miller said. "It's not being considered suspicious at this time, but arson investigators from the police and fire departments are investigating."

Skip Dickstein, Times Union
Albany firefighters Jack Moran, left, and Lt. Bill VonDollen stand near the Orange Street apartment in Albany where they rescued two youngsters from a fire Monday