Queens Fireman Dies In Illegal Loft’s Blaze
Firefighter Daniel Pujdak.
By MICHAEL CUSENZA
A firefighter from Queens died last week battling a blaze in an illegally converted apartment in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Second-year firefighter Daniel Pujdak, 23, of Fresh Meadows, fell more than 50 feet to the ground after losing his footing transferring from a tower ladder to the roof at 83 Meserole St. He was rushed to Bellevue Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.
Approximately 12 units and 60 firefighters responded to the all-hands call, and fire marshals determined it was caused accidentally by a lit cigarette on a windowsill in a fourth-floor loft.
Pujdak, assigned to Ladder 146 in Brooklyn, had been a star athlete and giving student at St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows.
“Danny worked harder than most people,” said Br. Robert Kent, head varsity boys’ baseball coach at St. Francis Prep where Pujdak was a pitcher. “He was always in good physical shape.”
Pujdak’s father, Leo, has been teaching religion at St. Francis Prep since 1989, and both of his brothers, David, 27, and Matthew, 22, also attended the high school.
Pujdak and his brothers were raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He recently moved to an apartment in Fresh Meadows.
“He was a fun-loving person, always involved,” Kent related. “We have a Christmas party every year for the handicapped. You never had to tell Danny to go – he would always be front-and-center.”
The four-story building where Pujdak fell houses illegal loft apartments. Department of Buildings records show that a work permit was issued in 2000 granting permission for the owner, Nachman Brach, to “convert existing factory on first, second and fourth floors to residential dwelling units.”
But there are no records indicating that a Certificate of Occupancy for residential use was issued. The building has incurred 28 DOB violations since 1989. Two work without a permit violations from 2000 and 2001 remain open.
“This points out the fact that illegal construction is out of control in the City,” said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), chairman of the Zoning and Franchises committees and long-standing critic of DOB practices. “The DOB is incapable of doing anything about it.”
Since the tragedy, the DOB has issued violations to Brach for use of the building contrary to the original Certificate of Occupancy, and four of the five fourth floor apartments at 83 Meserole St. were ordered vacated due to improper fire exits.
A spokesman for the DOB said that Brach has to apply for a new Certificate of Occupancy that reflects residential use.
“It’s incumbent upon a building owner to ensure that their properties are being used in accordance with the law,” said the spokesperson.
Avella cited Pujdak’s death as the third FDNY casualty that has called attention to illegal apartment construction in the last 2-1/2 years. On Jan. 25, 2005, two firefighters died in the Bronx after they were forced to jump from a fourth-story window while battling a blaze in an illegally converted dwelling.
“When are the mayor and the DOB going to stand up and recognize that the DOB is not doing its job?” Avella asked. “These conditions lead to serious consequences.”