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Blaze damages Social Security building

An NYPD flyer released on Dec. 31, with an image of the suspected arsonist.

Community board and other offices damaged by suspected arson

A fire that may have been deliberately set resulted in the evacuation of the Feldco building on East 163rd Street in Longwood around 11 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 30. The three-story building is home to Community Board 2, the local Social Security office and a program for the developmentally disabled.

Engines 71 from Melrose Avenue and 92 from Morris Avenue, along with ladder companies 42 from Prospect Avenue and 54 from Bryant Avenue, responded shortly after the blaze broke out and brought it under control within a half-hour. One firefighter was rushed to Jacoby Hospital for treatment of minor injuries and released.

The building’s longtime custodian, Raymond Ortiz, said he was in the community board office on the second floor around 11 when teachers from the program next door began knocking frantically on the door to warn others a fire had broken out.

“It happened so fast I didn’t even know there was smoke,” said Ortiz. When he ran up to the third floor to help the Social Security and Bronx1 employment offices evacuate, the stairs and hallways were already black with smoke, he recalled. People were panicking as they ran out of the building, crowding the halls and stairwells so tightly it became hard to move. He and two security guards helped carry one of the developmentally disabled adults down the stairs and out of the building when she threw a tantrum and refused to budge. Firefighters broke second floor windows to help usher people down to the street via ladders.

Hours after the fire, District Manager Rafael Salamanca rounded up files at the community board office, preparing to work from home. Although the board’s office was not visibly damaged, the smell of smoke was still intense.

Footage caught on the building’s security cameras shows a man leaving the social security office before 11, going down to the lobby, dragging a bag of trash from under the first floor stairwell onto the elevator, lighting it on fire and casually walking away. NYPD has released a flyer with an image of the suspect. Police are urging the public to call detectives at 718-722-3600 with information to help them catch the suspect.

The stairwell on the second floor where firefighters broke windows to let people out.

While surveying the damage on the stairwell between the second and third floors, Ortiz and a security guard noticed a plant that had been knocked over in the ruckus. It lay on the floor amid dirt and broken glass beneath two broken windows firefighters had smashed.

“I had just given them food,” Ortiz said of the plants.

The building’s owner, Bill Feldman, whose office is located next to the community board’s, said the next step will be to get an estimate on repairing the elevator, but it is too early to guess when the building will reopen.

Anyone wishing to contact the community board for updates can call Rafael Salamanca at 646-915-5995.

The story was updated on Dec. 31. 

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