Retired Bravest
spread word on safety


Spurred by the deaths of a mother and two children in an Astoria house fire, a band of retired firefighters has made fire safety in the neighborhood a personal mission.
The group is especially concerned about the holiday season, when house fires are four to five times more prevalent than the rest of the year.

"The reason we're down here is because of the fatal fire on 21st St.," said Lois Mungay, one of the retired firefighters who handed out fire safety literature to pedestrians Friday at Ditmars Blvd. and 31st St. "The cause of that fire was basically a candle falling onto a sofa," she said.

On Wednesday, Rebecca Harden, 37, died from injuries that resulted from a Dec. 14 fire that claimed the lives of her 10-year-old daughter, Audrey, and son, Sander, 6.

The children were the niece and nephew of Oscar-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden, whose brother was divorced from Harden.

On Friday, four retired firefighters canvassed a 10-block area to pass out colorful glossy flyers and newsletters that warned of the dangers associated with candles, space heaters, overloaded electrical sockets and live Christmas trees.

They worked their way from the Ditmars Blvd. subway station to the area near the scene of last week's horrible fire.

The group chose not to approach nearby families who are still in mourning.

"People are kind of nonchalant because they don't think it will happen to them," Mungay said. "But with a fatal fire like the one in the neighborhood, it sort of hits close to home."

Karine Sayesh, 23, a marketing associate looking to move to Astoria from her uptown Manhattan apartment, said the information she received Friday will make her and her roommate more mindful of the dangers associated with candles after she moves into her new home.

"They're usually on our counters and they're covered with glass," Sayesh said. "We do have three cats, so we have to be careful. So when we're not in the area where we can watch the candles, we put them outside."

The retired firefighters of the Fire Safety Education Fund, a nonprofit group that works in conjunction with the city Fire Department, said that throughout their careers they worked many fatal fires that could have been prevented.

"Never try to put out a fire unless it's smaller than a basketball," said Mungay, who fought fires for 20 years and worked with Engine 235 in Bedford-Stuyvesant. "You can always replace material things."

Steven Papadakis, 24, a real estate broker who lives on 21st Ave., said he was disheartened when he learned that children died in last week's fire because they were trapped in an attic that was rented illegally.

"I just bought a fire extinguisher and one of those collapsible ladders," Papadakis said. "I live with my mother and she's a little haphazard about fires. I'm overly careful. She makes fun of me, but it's better to be safe than sorry."

Originally published on December 22, 2003