14 Are Injured in Blaze at Staten Island Ferry Terminal : Fire: The building’s roof collapses. A fast evacuation is credited with saving lives. Officials suspect arson is cause.

From Reuters

Fire swept Manhattan’s Staten Island Ferry terminal on Sunday, injuring 14 people and causing the roof to collapse. Service on the famous ferry was briefly suspended.

New York Fire Commissioner Carlos Rivera said the fire appeared to be of suspicious origin, but an investigation would be needed to determine if it was arson.

In addition to the 14 injured, 80 firefighters were treated for exposure to asbestos after they battled the flames on land and water from three fireboats and 35 fire engines.

The fire erupted shortly after 8 a.m. in the terminal on the Manhattan side. It took 200 firefighters more than four hours to bring the blaze under control, Fire Department spokesman Neal Gardner said.


Terminal personnel were credited with saving lives via prompt evacuation of the building. They literally pushed people out just moments before the roof came crashing down on a row of benches where homeless people had been sleeping.

By early afternoon, ferry service between Staten Island and Manhattan was partially restored, using a nearby Coast Guard terminal, but officials said it would not be possible to move cars from Staten Island on the ferry until the terminal was repaired.

Asked about Monday rush hour service, Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari said: “The situation is going to be chaotic.”

The cave-in in the 50-year-old building sent metal pillars crashing down amid what one witness called “tons of fire.”


Rivera, the fire commissioner, said the blaze appeared suspicious because it was so advanced by the time firefighters arrived. He said this could indicate that an accelerant was used to start the fire or that the alarm was not given until it was well under way.

Arthur Cordiano, the terminal’s supervisor, said the fire began in the roof.

“I saw sparks flying out of the light fixtures in the ceiling. Then we saw smoke and the flames, and I ordered the terminal evacuated. Part of the ceiling came crashing down.”

It was Cordiano who called the Fire Department, ordered deck hands to evacuate the terminal and directed the incoming 8:30 a.m. boat away from the terminal.


The city’s Emergency Medical Service said that 14 people--six police officers, six civilians and two firefighters--were injured. “None of the injuries appeared serious. Most are just smoke inhalation,” said a spokesman.

The ferries, which cost 50 cents for a round trip, are used by 15,000 to 20,000 commuters during weekday rush hours. Thousands of tourists use the ferries as an inexpensive alternative to the sightseeing boats that ply the harbor.

John Wylie, a deck hand, said: “We ran to the back of the terminal yelling ‘fire! fire!’ but nobody wanted to leave. We had to push people out. As we got everybody to the turnstile, the ceiling in the back collapsed onto benches where some homeless people had been sleeping.”

Siva Wignavagah, 40, who works in a terminal coffee shop, said: “When I came into work at 7:45 a.m. you could smell smoke. A few minutes later everyone began to yell ‘fire!’ and people ran out of the terminal in a panic.


“As I was leaving the terminal I looked back and I saw a heavy metal beam come crashing down from the ceiling right in front of me. Along with it came tons of fire.”

Police said the fire would have been devastating if it had taken place on a workday, when the terminal would have been crowded with thousands of commuters.