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Uncle Rescues 2-Year-Old from High-Rise Fire Sparked by Candle

By DNAinfo Staff on February 23, 2012 8:29am  | Updated on February 23, 2012 7:29pm

Six people were injured in a Pearl Street high-rise fire on Thursday.
Six people were injured in a Pearl Street high-rise fire on Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Theodore Parisienne

By Matt Draper, Benjamin Fearnow and Wil Cruz

DNAinfo Staff

LOWER EAST SIDE — A brave 22-year-old man helped rescue his toddler nephew from a Lower East Side high-rise blaze sparked by a candle, clambering down a fire truck ladder to deliver the child to safety Thursday morning.

The fire broke about 7:35 a.m on the eighth floor of 388 Pearl St. — part of the Alfred E. Smith Houses — trapping a family of five inside and leaving seven people, including two firefighters, injured, officials and relatives said.

A candle in the apartment's kitchen sparked the blaze, blocking the family's path to their front door, an FDNY spokesman said.

When firefighters arrived at the 17-story building, a frantic 22-year-old Willis Febow was perched on a window ledge outside the burning apartment tying together bed sheets, said FDNY spokesman Jim Long.

Firefighters shouted at Febow through a bullhorn, telling him to remain calm as they extended a ladder. But Febow, eager to escape the flames, leaped onto the ladder before it reached the window, Long said.

As he was making his way down the ladder, a woman inside the apartment handed him his 2-year-old nephew, Emory Vasquez, from another window.

Febow took the child in his arms, then climbed down the ladder and handed the toddler off to a firefighter.

As firefighters continued to battle the blaze, the woman who gave Febow the child tried to climb on to the ladder herself, Long said. But firefighters stopped her because there were too many people on it already.

"Unless you're familiar with it, the ladder is very precarious," Long said. "She would have killed herself."

Firefighters ultimately reached the woman through the apartment.

Febow's mother, Judith Hernandez, who lives nearby, said she received a panicked phone call at 7:54 a.m. about the rescue from a friend who lives in the Pearl Street building.

"They told me on the phone [Febow and the boy] were hanging out the window," Hernandez said. "I was crying. I was hysterical. I don't even know how I got here."

By the time she arrived, Febow and Vasquez had been rescued. A relieved Hernandez said late Thursday afternoon that they were doing fine after being released from the hospital.

The family was waiting for officials from the New York City Housing Authority to tell them whether they could return to their apartment, Hernandez said. If not, NYCHA would put the family up elsewhere, she said.

"Smoke was pouring out of all of the windows," said Edwin Indio, who had relatives in the burning apartment. "People were running all over the place."

The seven injured people, including Febow and the boy, were taken to New York Downtown Hospital, officials said.  All of the injuries were minor.

"There was a lot of smoke ... heavy smoke in the hallway," said FDNY Deputy Chief Robert Carroll.

The second-alarm fire was under control at 8:15 a.m., with effort from 20 units and nearly 80 firefighters, officials said.

Gas service to the 17-story building was shut off, FDNY officials said, and Pearl Street from Madison to Wagner streets was temporarily closed.