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Thursday, October 31, 2019

PARK AVENUE ARSON - 1981

Photo: Paterson Retired Firefighters Facebook


On Oct. 15, 1981, a spurned suitor set a 4-alarm arson fire that raced through a four-story tenement at 87-89 Park Avenue in Paterson, killing eight people and injuring two dozen others.

"Families in an adjacent building were forced to flee when flames jumped across a small alley," The New York Times reported.

Box 11 was transmitted shortly before 3 a.m. and firefighters, back in quarters from an earlier third-alarm blaze, responded to a 
chaotic scene.

Gasoline was poured throughout the tenement, blocking exits.

Fire Engineering magazine said:

"First-arriving companies encountered a mass of flame over the entire facade of the building, engulfing both fire escapes and the central stairway. The tenants, most of whom were asleep at the time, were trapped on all four floors.

"Six people who had jumped from upper windows were lying on the ground outside. People were standing at numerous windows and were dropping children into the arms of fire fighters and civilians assisting at the scene.

"To complicate the situation, the fire jumped a 6-foot alley and spread to a fully occupied similar building of four stories.

"First-in companies set up master streams to knock down the flames over the outside fire escapes. This action enabled truck companies to ladder the front of the building and rescue at least a dozen persons."

Firefighter Elliot McGuire rescued members of a family trapped by the thick smoke and flames, according to United Press International.

"The guy was fantastic," Fire Chief Harold Kane said.

McGuire raced up and down a ladder, removing a 10-year-old boy, a woman and a man from a third-floor window. He then "
groped in the dark" and found an unconscious 9-year-old boy in a rear bedroom, UPI reported.

Firefighters recovered the bodies of Edwin Perez, 34, his wife Irene, 38, and their children, Alejandro, 5, Carmen, 10, and Edwin Ramon, 11. Luis Alberto Perez, 23, a relative, was also found dead.

The other fatalities were identified as Gloria Hendley, 26, and Ramon Diaz, 56.

Twenty-four people were injured, including three firefighters.

Leonides Garcia, 37, was convicted of setting the blaze, Fire Engineering reported. Police said Garcia had been "making passes" at a tenant for several months and she wanted none of it, according to UPI.