Shortly after 2 p.m. this past Wednesday afternoon, the vicinity of Hashevaynu in Kew Gardens Hills was thrown into chaos as 18 Orthodox Jewish children ranging from 16 months to 5 years were caught in the midst of a housefire that began in the basement where their daycare operated. Within 45 minutes, the fire was under control at the duplex at 147-07 72nd Drive. It was all-hands-on-deck for Hatzolah of Queens and Great Neck, who worked together with the FDNY to treat the injured.
In all, six Hatzolah ambulances arrived, included one from Rockaway-Nassau and one from Williamsburg, the two closest divisions to Queens. It is general practice for Central Hatzalah to bring in neighboring ambulances when a community’s resources are stretched to the max. The out-of-town ambulances potentially assist at the ongoing call or remain on hand to cover local incoming calls. In mass trauma situations, the fire department runs point operations. In this case, the first child came out with extensive injuries that in turn called for all children to be fully evaluated before they could be released. In the end, just one boy, a 16-month-old, was taken to New York Presbyterian-Queens and later transferred to Weill Cornell Medicine-Burn Center in Manhattan for further care due to smoke inhalation.
Much appreciation is extended to the 20 Hatzolah EMTs, seven paramedics, and Dr. Ellie Bennett, a longstanding Hatzolah volunteer and neighborhood physician who is Board Certified for internal medicine and emergency medicine and was tasked with making the final call for the patients on-scene, enabling most the parents to eventually take their children home and avoid a hospital visit. Chief of Fire Operations John Esposito was also on-scene. The FDNY also had six ambulances and 40 emergency personnel on hand.
As has unfortunately become quite common, the fire resulted from a lithium-ion battery that exploded in an electrical scooter owned by the distraught homeowner; it was stored in the basement where the daycare was in session. Overheated or defective batteries can catch fire or even explode, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). According to the FDNY, 150 such fires plagued New York City last year, and 60 from January 1 to May 3, a 233% increase from the same period in 2021. Often, these fires result from incorrect charging cables being used. It is recommended to never charge a lithium-ion battery overnight or leave such a battery on its charger following a max capacity charge. Batteries that are regulated and certified should be stored at room temperature, not in the entranceway, and away from flammable items while you are awake, at home, in a closed-door room. Some of the fires noted by the fire department went rampant when the charge was conducted under a pillow, on a bed, or on a couch.
Normally, this childcare program consists of 10 or so children, but due to Yeshivah Week, had roughly double. There was ample adult supervision for the children and never any lapse in child protection. The children were brought out orderly and without chaos. The daycare provider has been praised by parents and grandparents of those in her care, past and present, for her attention to their loved ones. Many have reached out with financial and emotional support. Both parents, members of Rabbi Rafael Zavulunov’s Cong. Ohr HaTorah, are well known in the Queens Jewish community as hard working, friendly, and kind.
The residence, home to the daycare operator, her husband, and their children, was given a vacate order, forcing the family to stay with family in a cramped Forest Hills apartment, “in the interest of public safety and due to the severe extent of the damage from the fire.” As reported in secular media, there was also a dental lab at the home. The lab was not in operation at the time of the fire, as there were no orders being processed. The lab was set up during the pandemic for the homeowner to conduct his affairs of producing crowns and dentures when necessary.
The office of Council Member James Gennaro will be investigating daycares in the district to ensure all regulations are being followed. In 2020, the city rushed to legalize e-bikes and e-scooters without sufficient protocols in place to ensure safety, resulting in over 200 fires. E-scooters pose a clear and present fire danger, and the New York City Council is currently reviewing new legislation to comprehensively regulate or completely ban this hazardous means of transportation. Fellow Council Member Robert Holden has introduced legislation that would repeal city regulations that allow e-bikes and e-scooters to be driven throughout the city and is urging for regulations that would require registration, licensing, and insurance due to an untold number of injuries and deaths from lithium ion-based blazes. There is an obvious quality of life issue at hand.
Immediate expenses for the family of six include rent for a new home, mortgage payments on the damaged home, and basic living expenses, clothes, tuition, and potentially renovations for the damaged property. Donations are accepted online at charidy.com/fire6, and via check to “Ohr HaTorah” (must say “family fire appeal” in memo) and mailed to Cong. Ohr HaTorah, 147-30 73 Ave., Flushing, NY 11367.
By Shabsie Saphirstein