SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — One person is dead and a firefighter remains unaccounted for following a massive fire at an assisted living facility overnight in Rockland County.
Calls to 911 came in around 1 a.m. from Evergreen Court Home for Adults on Lafayette Street in Spring Valley.
Fire officials said around 125 people lived inside the facility, but exactly how many were in the building at the time the blaze broke out was not immediately known. Officials said 30 were rescued. In all, 23 of the 26 volunteer fire departments in Rockland responded.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reports, it was the very definition of an inferno, with raging flames almost beyond description. A still picture taken miles away shows how the fire lit up the night sky.
WATCH: Fire Officials Share Update On Spring Valley Blaze
The scenario was nightmarish: A multi-alarm fire at a senior care facility. The walls and ceilings were collapsing.
First responders from Spring Valley police and fire rushed in to the danger to help trapped residents escape.
“Blackout conditions, high heat. We’re protected by our ensemble, gear, mask, as firefighters. You can imagine what the residents that are trapped are going through. That gives us the extra Herculean effort to find these people,” said Rockland County Fire Coordinator Chris Kear.
— Tony Aiello (@AielloTV) March 23, 2021
CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis spoke exclusively to administrator Garfield Bryan, who got the call shortly after the fire broke out. He rushed to the scene, witnessing heroism from his staff, rushing residents out.
“They did some tremendous work, life savings, before the fire department got there,” he said. “People was all over the place. It quickly started to look like a war zone. More fire trucks started coming in, and that’s when we realized that potentially there could be more residents on the right side of the building.”
Bryan says the flames didn’t reach that part of the building, but he was worried it could, so he and other staff members ran in to wake up residents.
“We got them dressed, put them in wheelchairs, whoever needed some assistance, and rolled them down the fire escape. Some of them were sleeping. I’m pretty sure they would have been engulfed with smoke,” he said.
Watch Tony Aiello’s report —
CBS2’s Christina Fan spoke with volunteers from Chaverim of Rockland, who heard the call over the radio and arrived ahead of the fire department. They jumped into action, wheeling several of the elderly out and carrying others.
“There [were] plenty of Good Samaritans out here, probably eight of them, that literately ran into the building and [brought] them out in their wheelchairs, walkers, or literately picking them up and physically removing them out of the danger,” Hershy Green said. “They were speechless, it was really traumatic to see that. And we tried to tell them we would take them to a different facility that would be welcoming but watching their facility, their home go up in flames, was really traumatic.”
“It was a community effort, I want to say, saving those lives,” Bryan said.
In the middle of the chaos came a mayday call as a firefighter became trapped on the third floor. Smoke and flames forced rescuers to retreat.
“As conditions worsened, they had to pull themselves out of the building for their own safety’s sake,” Kear said. “It’s gut-wrenching.”
Smoke trail from Spring Valley Senior care center fire visible from 3 miles away pic.twitter.com/4BKrSMnZUD
— Tony Aiello (@AielloTV) March 23, 2021
Tuesday afternoon, Chopper 2 was over the scene, showing the scale of the destruction. On the ground, firefighters searched for their missing comrade, carefully moving rubble by hand.
“We have numerous teams digging through the rubble, and we are currently going to bring in a mini excavator to start pulling apart the remaining large pieces of rubble piece by piece so we can locate this firefighter and bring him home,” said Kear.
Across the street from the fire, the residents of one home recalled the fiery embers that forced a man to grab a hose.
“He went to the top of the roof so he can, like, any sparks that came down, he would put water on it,” said resident Justin Cushigua.
For those who witnessed it, It was a fire they’ll never forget. The tragic damage measured in lost property, and lost lives.
One resident died at the hospital, and 10 others, along with two firefighters, were injured and hospitalized.
A resident who had been listed as missing has since been located and is safe.
County Executive Ed Day arrived on the scene and called it a “moment of great pain.”
“I’m horrified to learn of the deadly fire that tore through the Evergreen Court Home in my hometown of Spring Valley early this morning,” Congressman Mondaire Jones said in a statement. “I am deeply saddened by the death of a resident of the Evergreen facility, and I am praying that the firefighter who bravely risked his life to save dozens of individuals trapped inside will be found safe and alive.”
“I honor them to the highest power. I salute everyone, especially the one they are looking for right now. He didn’t deserve this. No one did,” Otis Jones said.
Officials said the facility is a total loss.
Firefighters said issues with low water pressure impacted their ability to control the fast-moving flames.
Officials were trying to get the hot spots under control before conducting an exhaustive search of the facility to make sure everyone is accounted for.
Evergreen Court released the following statement:
This is an unspeakable tragedy at Evergreen Court Home and our hearts and prayers go out to all individuals and families who have been impacted. We join the community in mourning the loss of our resident who passed away and pray for the safety of the missing firefighter.
We are fully cooperating with all state and local authorities in the investigation of this fire and are conducting our own internal investigation as well. Our staff was truly heroic in evacuating residents who were inside the building as the fire spread, and we are forever grateful to the first responders whose actions undoubtedly saved lives. All 112 residents at Evergreen Court Home are accounted for and have been placed in a new home. We are currently in the process of contacting their families. Anyone who wishes to reach us to inquire about a family member can call 973-378-1997 or email email@example.com.
CBS2’s Christina Fan and Jenna DeAngelis contributed to this report