A firefighter is missing and a resident is dead after a fire at an assisted-living center in New York
By Miguel Marquez, Carolyn Sung, Eric Levenson and Hollie Silverman, CNN
(CNN) -- A residential assisted-living center in New York caught fire and partially collapsed early Tuesday, leaving one resident dead and a firefighter missing in the rubble, officials said.
The fire at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley, a suburb of New York City, began overnight and sent Rockland County firefighters streaming inside to rescue disabled and elderly residents unable to escape the flames.
About 20 to 25 residents of the building were rescued, and about 20 were taken to local hospitals, Rockland County Fire Coordinator Chris Kear said.
One firefighter who was trying to rescue someone on the third floor got lost and issued a mayday call during the blaze, Kear said. Other firefighters couldn't find their missing comrade, who remains unaccounted for on Tuesday morning.
"With the extent of the fire and the volume of fire, the conditions were just too unbearable where firefighters went in, and they just could not locate the firefighter, and they had to back out," Kear said.
Teams are digging through the rubble to try to find the missing firefighter, he said.
Two other firefighters were sent to area hospitals, including one who will remain hospitalized for smoke inhalation and high levels of carbon monoxide in the blood, Kear said.
The resident who perished was pronounced dead at a hospital, Kear said. Trooper Steven Nevel of New York State Police's Troop F said early Tuesday that a firefighter suffered a heart attack and was taken to a hospital with injuries, he said.
There is no official speculation on the fire's cause, Kear said.
About 100 to 125 people live in the building, and authorities were still working to confirm everyone's whereabouts. The fire caused much of the building to collapse, and firefighters were still putting out hot spots on Tuesday morning.
"There was a whole section of one part of the building that collapsed," Kear said. "The rooms, the hallways, the staircases -- there was a pretty major collapse. When you see the building in the back here, the back of the building collapsed, and some areas in the front of the building collapsed."
Despite the destruction, he praised the all-volunteer fire department and other first responders who ran into the burning building.
"It's a sad day on many fronts, but the work by the local fire department mutual aid companies and the Spring Valley Police Department saved numerous, numerous lives here," he said. "There was a lot of heroic actions that were taken here by all the emergency services."
A joint investigation is ongoing with city and state police, the Rockland County Sheriff's Fire Investigation Unit and state fire investigators, Kear said.
Seniors in wheelchairs whisked from danger
Spring Valley resident Hershey Green and others saw the flames and ran in to help residents, he told CNN affiliate WCBS.
They "literally ran in and helped out with the seniors," Green said as flames continued to burn through the building behind him. "There was plenty of just good Samaritans out here, about eight of them that literally ran into the building and bring them out in the wheelchairs, walkers, and literally picking them up and physically removing them out of the danger."
Residents were put onto a school bus as their home burned, Greed told WCBS.
"They were speechless. It was really traumatic to see that," he said. "Watching their facility, their home going down in flames was something really traumatic."
Firefighters doused the building with water as towering flames tore through what was left of the structure, video shows.
Raymond Rodriguez was staying at his uncle's apartment near the senior center when the fire started, he told CNN affiliate WABC.
Rodriguez could see firefighters pull two people from the fire, he said.
"It's just a sad day for the people of this town" he told WABC, adding that firefighters evacuated people to the courtyard in the building where he was staying as they fought the blaze.
The vinyl siding of the apartment building appeared melted and warped, WABC video shows.
Charles Crippen, who lives in the building with the melted siding, was prepared to leave his home if the fire spread, he said.
"It's pretty devastating," he told WABC. "That's a lot of old folks that was living over there, handicapped and stuff like that, and they are all out of a home now."
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