FIREFIGHTER DIES SEARCHING BURNING B'KLYN BASEMENT

By PATRICK GALLAHUE, MURRAY WEISS and PERRY CHIARAMONTE

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January 24, 2005 -- A firefighter was killed when flames tore through a two-story house in Brooklyn yesterday.

Richard Sclafani, 37, became separated from his colleagues while searching the basement of the house at 577 Jerome St. in East New York, where a child's birthday party had been in progress. He was found minutes later in respiratory arrest on the cellar stairs.

"If you saw the outpouring from the Fire Department today, you'd know that this guy was somebody that everybody loved and respected and loved working with," Mayor Bloomberg said at a news conference.

Fire officials said Sclafani's ladder-company mates were outside the house when they realized he was missing.

Investigators believe he became entangled on an object, possibly a coat rack, on the basement stairs.

Witnesses saw six Bravest carry Sclafani from the burning brick-face house.

"They brought [him] out and he wasn't breathing," one neighbor told The Post. "They were trying to get breath back in him."

He was rushed to Brookdale Hospital, where he was pronounced dead with burns over 80 percent of his body.

Colleagues at Ladder Co. 103 remembered the 10-year veteran as a burly weight-lifter who was still sensitive enough to get excited over his puppy.

"He just bought a boxer puppy about a month ago, and [the dog] was here so he wouldn't be by himself all the time," Lt. Paul Brown said.

Brown said Sclafani, who lived alone in Bayside, Queens, had recently transferred from the elite Squad 18 in Greenwich Village.

His sister, JoAnn Asche, said he requested the relocation so he could see more action.

"He felt like he was wasting [his time] in the Village," she said. "My brother was a diehard firefighter, and he genuinely wanted to save people."

Sclafani even worked on days off