New York Daily News

PAY FOR PAIN

$183M award to Bravest vics of Black Sunday

- BYBARBARA ROSS and GINGER ADAMS OTIS

THE FAMILIES of five of the six firefighte­rs who died or were critically injured in the infamous Black Sunday blaze in the Bronx were awarded a whopping $183 million in damages Monday.

In one of the largest verdicts ever against the city, a Bronx jury found it and the landlord responsibl­e for the catastroph­ic injuries the Bravest suffered that day.

At the heart of the lawsuit against the city was a failure by the Fire Department to equip its firefighte­rs with personal safety ropes that would have let the men escape from the burning building in 2005.

All firefighte­rs used to have such ropes, but they were taken away five years earlier.

The jury assigned 80% of the blame for the tragedy to the city — meaning taxpayers will have to cough up $146 million unless the award is reduced on appeal.

The blaze broke out just after dawn on Jan. 23, 2005, inside a tenement on E. 178th St. off the Grand Concourse.

Five firefighte­rs and a lieutenant were trapped in an illegally subdivided apartment that was consumed by flames.

Unable to find their way out of the haphazardl­y constructe­d walls, the firefighte­rs jumped five stories to avoid being burned to death.

Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, of Battalion 26, and Firefighte­r John Bellew, 37, of Ladder Co. 27 were killed. Firefighte­r Joseph DiBernardo — whose heels and feet were crushed by the impact — died six years later from the physical and psychologi­cal impact of his injuries, their lawyers said.

Firefighte­rs Eugene Stolowski, Jeffrey Cool and Brendan Cawley survived but suffered life-changing injuries.

Meyran’s family settled his case separately, but the other firefighte­rs, represente­d by lawyers from Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavoavo Cannavo, went to trial and won the verdict after Appellate Division judges last year ruled that the city could not claim immunity.

The Bronx jury deliberate­d for five days, mostly over testimony from former Fire Commission­er Thomas Von Essen, who made the decision to take away the ropes.

“It was such a stupid mistake.... I forgive him, but he’s gotta ask God for forgivenes­s,” said survivor Cool.

Building manager Cesar Rios, 59, was found guilty in 2009 of criminally negligent homicide and reck- less endangerme­nt endangerme­nt.

But his conviction was overturned a year later by a Bronx judge, who also vacated the conviction of the building landlord, a limited liability company called 234 E. 178th St.

A spokesman for the city Law Department said the landlord deserves more responsibi­lity for the blaze, and the city would review its legal options. Since 2006, firefighte­rs carry personal safety systems: a hook, a rope and a sliding mechanism.

Firefighte­r Richard Sclafani, 37, also died on Black Sunday in a Brooklyn blaze just hours after the Bronx tragedy.

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 ??  ?? Firefighte­r John Bellew (far l.) and Lt. Curtis Meyran (center) died in blaze. Firefighte­r Joseph DiBernardo (right) died six years later of injuries.
Firefighte­r John Bellew (far l.) and Lt. Curtis Meyran (center) died in blaze. Firefighte­r Joseph DiBernardo (right) died six years later of injuries.
 ??  ?? TragicT building (far left) ono E. 178th St. in Bronx where,w on Jan. 23, 2005, twot firefighte­rs died anda four were injured – oneo of whom later died. OnO same day, a Brooklynl blaze killed another firefighte­r.fi
TragicT building (far left) ono E. 178th St. in Bronx where,w on Jan. 23, 2005, twot firefighte­rs died anda four were injured – oneo of whom later died. OnO same day, a Brooklynl blaze killed another firefighte­r.fi

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