The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

FDNY Families Awarded $183M Over 'Black Sunday' Blaze, Lawyer Says

By Aidan Gardiner | February 23, 2016 2:34pm

THE BRONX — The city and a landlord have to pay $183 million to families of firefighters who were killed or injured after having to jump five stories to avoid being burned to death in a 2005 house fire, lawyers said.

A Bronx jury ruled Monday that the city didn't give firefighters the gear they needed to escape from an illegally divided home at 234 E. 178th St. which was engulfed in flames on Jan. 23, 2005, according to the lawyers for the families.

Five firefighters were battling a blaze in the Mount Hope home when heavy flames trapped them and they and couldn't find their escape through the illegally built partition walls in the home, said lawyers for Sullivan Papain Block McGrath and Cannavo.

The firefighters — John Bellew, Brendan Cawley, Jeff Cool, Joseph DiBernardo, Curtis Meyran and Gene Stolowski — had no ropes with which to safely repel down to the ground and instead had to jump from the top floor, lawyers said.

Bellew and Meyran died from the impact, lawyers said. DiBernardo, whose heels and feet were crushed in the fall, died six years later, lawyers said.

The other three firefighters suffered "life changing and permanent injuries," lawyers said.

Another firefighter, Richard Sclafani, died when smoke overwhelmed him in a Brooklyn house fire that same day, making it the deadliest day for firefighters since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to lawyers and the New York Times. It's since become known as "Black Sunday."

The city, which has to pay about $145 million of the award to the families in the Bronx fire, had removed safety ropes from the firefighters' gear and never replaced them, lawyers said.

"[This ruling] demonstrates that a governmental entity is not immune from liability when it fails to provide its firefighters, who put their lives on the line every day to protect our citizens, with proper safety equipment to fulfill their duties," said lead lawyer Vito Cannavo.

The rest of the award will be paid by the landlord, who is liable for the illegal walls in the building, lawyers said.

"This case reaffirms clearly that landlords are to be held accountable for turning a blind eye to unsafe conditions that exist in their buildings," he added.

Officials at the New York City Law Department said Monday's decision unfairly punishes the city and doesn't give due weight to the landlord's history of violations and make them pay more.

“We believe that the jury’s verdict does not fairly apportion liability in view of compelling evidence that established that the landlord’s numerous building code violations were directly responsible for this horrible event," a Law Department spokesman said.

"We will review the record and evaluate our legal options.”

FDNY officials did not immediately return a request for comment.