Family members of an elderly New York woman, who recently died after being removed from her fireproof apartment and left in a hallway to die, are blaming the New York Police Department for her death.
Ethel Davis, of Rockaway Beach, Queens, who suffered from dementia, was lying in her 12th-floor bedroom last Friday morning, singing gospel music, when officers came to the front door, according to Davis’ daughter, Marcia.
The four officers demanded that the two vacate the apartment due to a fire on the 11th floor. Marcia said that she pleaded with the officers to allow her and her mother to remain in the apartment and put a rolled towel at the base of the entry door to prevent smoke from entering.
The police disregarded Marcia’s arguments and warnings that her mother would be heavy to carry. An officer lifted Ethel out of bed, took her into the smoke-filled hallway and left her on the floor.
The New York Post reported that the officer who removed Ethel from the apartment violated FDNY protocol, which instructs people to shelter in place when a blaze occurs in a fireproof building. Tenants are also advised to place wet towels at the base of their doors to prohibit the entry of smoke.
FDNY spokesman Jim Long said regarding the incident, “We did not order evacuations. We were in contact with tenants via dispatch and directing them to shelter in place and then instructed firefighters to go to their locations.”
Marcia found her mother alone in the smoke-filled hallway.
“I saw my mother on the floor, right next to a hallway exit door where smoke was coming up the stairwell,” Marcia said. “Everybody else was gone.”
After waiting with her mother for 10 minutes without anyone coming to their assistance, Marcia said she was forced to leave.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Marcia said. “I started choking . . . But wasn’t going to leave her. I covered my nose with my sweater, I said, ‘Ma, nobody is coming. I gotta go. I can’t breathe no more. I’m choking.’ Then I said, ‘Ma, I love you. Goodbye.’”
The next time Marcia saw her mother, Ethel was being wheeled out of the building on a stretcher. An FDNY source reported that Ethel died on Saturday morning due to smoke inhalation.
“I really blame the police,” Marcia said. “I kept telling [the cop] not to take her. I know he felt like he was doing a good job getting her out, but he shouldn’t have touched her.”
The Davis family has hired lawyer Peter S. Thomas and intends to file a lawsuit against the NYPD.
“They left her to die,” Thomas said about Ethel. “Had that officer not removed her from her bed, she’d still be alive today.”
Marcia said that there have been several fires in the building during the 26 years that Ethel — who had five children, 15 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren — lived there. Members of the family never left the apartment during any of the fires.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for the family.
Friday afternoon, the New York Police Department confirmed to the NY Post that they are launching an investigation into the matter, and indicated that the officer made the bad decision due to a lack of training, as he was a police officer, and not a fire fighter.
”The police response to this fire is being currently reviewed and will continue to be reviewed until we have a clear understanding as to what our actions were at the scene,” police spokesperson Timothy Trainor told The Post on Friday. He said several officers were injured when responding to the fire.
“In the perfect world, fire department personnel would be the only responding units to go into fires because they are best equipped to handle and respond to fires,” explained Trainor. “We have officers that responded in good faith to the apartment fire where people were screaming in help, and the officers engage in evacuating that building, purely motivated by saving lives.”
“We’re not firefighters. We don’t know any better,” explained a police source. “We don’t get trained in fire safety. Maybe that’s something we should get trained in, especially because we normally get to fires before the fire department.”