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Schenectady firefighter hurt battling arson blaze

Schenectady firefighter hurt battling arson blaze

Three weeks after someone gunned down a man in the doorway of 933 Albany St., an arsonist destroyed
Schenectady firefighter hurt battling arson blaze
City of Schenectady firefighter Capt. Carmen Pantalone, carries a ladder to the front of 935 Albany Street, as flames consume the structure early Tuesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Three weeks after someone gunned down a man in the doorway of 933 Albany St., an arsonist destroyed the house early Tuesday, police and firefighters said after evidence technicians spent much of the day combing through the debris.

A commanding officer in the fire department was seriously injured as firefighters tried to douse the flames, but all of the residents got out safely.

Police are calling the fire at about 4 a.m. an arson but said they don’t know whether the fire was connected to the killing of Ulysses Cantey on Sept. 1. Cantey was shot dead at 7:30 a.m. when someone pumped five bullets through his door.

The killer lured him to the door by knocking, then shot him before he could pull the door open. Police have said that since the killer never saw Cantey, they don’t know whether Cantey was the intended target. There were three other people in the apartment at the time, but none of them was injured.

On Tuesday morning, two adults and two children were sleeping in the apartment when the fire started. They all got out safely, Deputy Chief Scott Doherty said.

But the firefighters, already tired from fighting a heavy fire just hours earlier, were not so lucky.

Lt. Michelle Wilson broke her leg as she hurried through an alley next to the burning house.

“She got involved with some wires on the ground that she couldn’t see and fell on something that caused the injury,” Fire Chief Robert Farstad said.

The injury was serious and Wilson spent the entire day at Ellis Hospital. By 4 p.m., she was being prepared for surgery.

No other firefighters were injured at either fire, Farstad said, adding that he had feared two other firefighters were injured at the first fire.

“Everyone turned out OK,” he said.

But the houses may be a total loss.

“There’s a lot of damage. I would say major damage,” Farstad said of 933 State St. “I don’t think it’s going to fall down but it will take a lot of money to fix.”

As for 12 Grove Place, the site of the earlier fire, Farstad released the building to owner Michael Hug but warned him that its structural integrity may not last.

“I would be very, very cautious about entering that building,” Farstad said.

Much of the roof fell in during the fire. Farstad said the fire was so hot, and so much water was needed to put it out, that most belongings are likely destroyed.

“In a dresser drawer some things may be protected,” he said.

close quarters fights

Both fires threatened the adjacent buildings, forcing firefighters to break inside and fight fires from the windows as flames licked up the siding.

On Albany Street, the fire spread next door to the Sign Shop at 935 Albany St.

“We had to force entry into the building and it has damage to the side eaves and roof,” said Doherty.

On Grove Place, fire threatened two other houses.

“I was worried about the houses on both sides,” Farstad said. “The one on the right, we had a ball of flame coming from the windows [of 12 Grove Place] and it scorched the side.”

He sent firefighters into that house to fight off the flames, called for an aerial truck to shower the house with water from above and put firefighters on two different streets to hit the house from all sides.

State Street was closed so they could run hoses to the fire hydrants on the far side of the main road to get more water on the fire.

“We needed more water. The trouble is when you tap a hydrant, they all come off the same loop. You’re taking a tremendous amount of water out. If you need more, where do you get it from?” Farstad said.

Their efforts did not save 12 Grove Place, but they did keep the fire from spreading. The houses on both sides of the burning building ended up with just minimal damage.

Firefighters then began to investigate tenants’ claims that the fire began when they turned on their heat for the first time this season. Farstad confirmed Tuesday that an electrical problem caused the fire, although investigators have not yet determined which part of the electrical system failed. The city’s code department had no record of any problems and Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden said the building had passed a rental certificate inspection last year.

The landlord, Michael Hug, hurried back to Schenectady from his honeymoon to deal with the disaster. Meanwhile, his 21 tenants are trying to rebuild their lives.

The Red Cross paid for hotel rooms for both families — one family with three adults and three children and one with four adults and 11 children. But that’s only a temporary solution, and Leslie Pedragon said she doesn’t know what she will do next.

“I don’t know. Eleven kids to clothe,” she said. “We need help.”

Pedragon and her husband have four children, but they have also taken in the child of Pedragon’s deceased sister and the six children of a sister who is incarcerated. Her mother and uncle live with them to help care for the children, only two of whom are teenagers. The rest are under the age of 12, with four children not yet old enough to attend school.

Their ages are: 17, 14, 11, 10, 10, 7, 7, 3, 2, 2 and 6 months.

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