Newburgh community questions fire department cuts, codes after fire kills mother, hospitalizes son


Blaise Gomez

Jun 16, 2022, 5:17 PM

Updated 711 days ago


Grief stricken community members in the City of Newburgh are demanding answers about what they say are code enforcement and fire department problems that allegedly contributed to a deadly fire overnight.
Residents watched on in horror as they heard their friend Debra Benedict call for help as she tried to escape from a third-floor apartment at 68 Lander St. 
“She was like help me, help me,” said one neighbor. “It messes you up mentally to see somebody sitting in the window like this and just burning.”
Photo of Debra Benedict provided by neighbors
Benedict’s son, Jason, was also trapped with his mother on the third floor.
Flames engulfed the stairwell inside and prevented them from getting out.
His mother died but he jumped from the burning building and is hospitalized with burns and broken bones, according to neighbors. 
Photo of Jason Benedict, provided by neighbors
Residents say the building did not have working smoke detectors, a fire escape or fire extinguishers.
A city fire official tells News 12 anonymously that city code does not require fire extinguishers or fire escapes in apartment buildings.
The deadly blaze is also renewing concerns about cuts to the fire department that reduced the number of firefighters required on duty earlier this year from 10 members to seven.
“Seven is not enough to go to a structure fire in a multiple dwelling,” said Mike Vatter, a former City of Newburgh fire chief. 
“When you pull up and don’t have enough people to do all the jobs that need to be done right away it becomes an impossible task,” said Vatter. 
The cuts also impact which firehouses the department operates from. 
On Wednesday night, a city official speaking anonymously said fire headquarters on Grand Street had an apparatus arrive with three members onboard, and that the Broadway firehouse had an engine with three firefighters. The seventh firefighter arrived in a separate department vehicle. 
Neighbors believe their friend’s death could have been prevented. 
“She was like the sweetest lady in the world, willing to help everybody. It’s just hard right now,” said a neighbor. 
News 12 is told 16 departments were called in for mutual aid.
The city mayor and manager have not responded to our request for information about  the community’s concerns. 
Several dogs and family pets also perished in the fire.
News 12 was there as neighbors found one deceased dogs that was seemingly left behind by rescuers in a red, plastic biohazard bag in the back of the building.

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