Schenectady County

Victim of Jay Street fire shares tale of terror

Ron Crandall said doctors told him he is healing well, but physical therapy would be a long process.
A Schenectady Fire Department fire investigator enters the front of 100 Jay St. fire scene and heads to the alarm system panel of the building.
A Schenectady Fire Department fire investigator enters the front of 100 Jay St. fire scene and heads to the alarm system panel of the building.

Moments after accidentally starting a fire that would soon spiral into an inferno, Harry Simpson banged on the fourth-floor door of neighbor Ron Crandall, yelling that they had to flee their apartment building at 104 Jay St.

“I threw on jeans and a shirt and opened the door,” Crandall, 53, said Thursday. “There were flames shooting out of his apartment. He was screaming that the fire was well fed.”

Crandall ran back into his apartment to grab his cellphone, then he went to the doorway and saw the hallway was engulfed in flames, preventing him from leaving his apartment.

Benefit for Ron Crandall

When: Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m.

Where: Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1895, 609 Draper Ave., Schenectady

What: Dinner, bake sale, 50/50 raffle, silent auction and DJ

Cost: $12 for adults, $7 for kids ages 5-12 (Tickets available at the Redwood Diner, Sawmill Tavern, the Veterans of Foreign Wars or by emailing [email protected])

Donate: Pioneer Savings Bank — Ron Crandall Fund

“I realized it was now or never,” he said. “I called 911, went through the flames and headed toward the staircase.”

Crandall ran down the hallway without shoes while on the phone with a dispatcher. The floor was burning up, he said. The pain was too much to handle, and Crandall fell to the floor as fire tore through the building.

“I ended up on the ground burning,” he said. “I saw the flames shooting up. I pulled myself together and managed to run down a couple of flights of stairs and collapsed in the lobby.”

As Crandall writhed in pain in the lobby, tenants of the building were running out the front door. That’s when the Schenectady Fire Department arrived on the scene, he said.

“They were running in and bringing tenants out,” he said. “Firemen grabbed me and sat me on the sidewalk.”

Crandall said an ambulance pulled up shortly after, and a man jumped out and looked over his body with a flashlight.

“He said, ‘Let’s get the helicopter.’ I said, ‘That’s not necessary.’ He shook his head at me.”

Crandall was taken in the ambulance to Schenectady County Community College, where a helicopter landed to take him to Westchester Medical Center’s Trauma and Burn Center in Valhalla.

“My hair had melted in a wave; my feet were … it was painful,” he said.

Crandall sustained second- and third-degree burns on his feet, right hand and face. He returned to Schenectady on Tuesday and is staying at a friend’s house after having surgery in Valhalla last week.

“My feet are severely burned, third-degree deep burns,” he said. “The tops have been grafted. My feet were the worst because I had no shoes on.”

The top of Crandall’s right hand, the hand he was holding his cellphone in, was “burned off,” he said. He also sustained burns on his ears and the sides of his face. He said his nose looks like a “really bad sunburn.”

Crandall said he has limited mobility, but he can walk slightly with the help of a walker.

“It hurts to walk at all,” he said. “Going down stairs are obviously difficult. I don’t have the ability to stand on my own.”

He joked that he feels like an old man now.

“It’s kind of funny to be in your early 50s and use a walker,” he said. “I guess it is practice for later years in life.”

Crandall said doctors in Valhalla told him he is healing well, but physical therapy would be a long process. He is returning to the hospital next week for doctors to look over his hand and feet.

“Everything seemed to go OK, between the artificial skin and the grafting,” he said. “There’s a piece of my thigh where they took skin the size of a football. My fingers don’t hurt anymore, and it doesn’t hurt to touch it.”

The fire, which killed four, was ruled accidental. Simpson, 59, woke up a little before 2 a.m. March 6 to find his upholstered chair on fire. The fire started from either a cigarette, candle or incense, which were all in proximity to the chair at the time, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said last week.

Simpson tried to drag the chair out of his apartment, but it got stuck in the doorway. The fire then spread through the hallway, to the back of the building and next door to 100-102 Jay St. A window that was open in Simpson’s apartment provided oxygen to fuel the fire, said Schenectady Fire Chief Ray Senecal.

Simpson did not make it out of the building. His remains were found in the hallway on the fourth floor of 104 Jay St., Carney said. The remains of three other victims were also found in the building: Robert Thomas, 31; Berenices Suarez, 33; and her boyfriend Jermaine Allen, 37.

Carney said because Simpson was barricaded out of his apartment by the chair, he knocked on Crandall’s door and yelled to wake up another neighbor.

“I only knew him in passing,” Crandall said of Simpson. “He asked me to help him one day with his cable box, but I didn’t really spend any time with him, so to speak.”

Crandall said other than the fire he witnessed on the fourth floor, he wasn’t aware of the extent of damage to the buildings.

“I was in the ambulance, and then the Fire Department got the OK for the helicopter at the community college,” he said. ”I heard something on the radio that the roof was collapsing.”

The five-story 104 Jay St. and six-story 100-102 Jay St. are now one-story structures. The fire gutted both buildings, and Jackson Demolition has since leveled them to the ground floors. Work is ongoing on Jay Street across from City Hall and is expected to take another two to three weeks.

Crandall visited the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany on Thursday to review a list of places to live. Crandall said it would probably be another couple weeks before he could start looking at apartments.

“To go out and search for an apartment would be difficult,” he said. “I have good friends to help me. I have also been looking on Craigslist and in the paper to see what is available. I would prefer a place in Schenectady. It’s home.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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