The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (BG-RRT) has deployed crisis-trained chaplains to the Bronx borough of New York City after a 19-story apartment building caught fire just before 11 a.m. on Jan. 9. The blaze killed 17 people—including eight children—and left many others injured and hospitalized.
The fire started Sunday morning by a malfunctioning electric space heater in a bedroom on the building’s third floor. As the apartment’s residents fled, the door was left open behind them, allowing smoke to rapidly spread upward throughout the entire building, which had no fire escapes.
While the flames damaged only a small part of the building, the thick smoke swept through the stairwells and halls, trapping many residents in their homes and hindering those who tried to escape as the stairs were the only means of leaving.
According to Daniel A. Nigro, commissioner of the New York City Fire Department, firefighters arrived within three minutes of receiving calls about the blaze and encountered smoke that extended the entire height of the building. The total response drew roughly 200 firefighters.
“The smoke conditions in this building were unprecedented,” Nigro said, adding that it was the worst fire since the 1990 blaze at the Happy Land nightclub in the Bronx, where 87 people died.
Victims were found on every floor of the building. All had suffered from severe smoke inhalation and many were in cardiac arrest.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams called the fire one of the city’s worst in modern times.
“This is a horrific, horrific, painful moment for the city of New York,” he said at a press conference at the scene of the fire. “The impact of this fire is going to really bring a level of just pain and despair in our city.”
BG-RRT chaplains are on the ground to bring a ministry of presence to the hurting community by offering emotional and spiritual care to those in need.
“Our hearts go out to all those who lost loved ones, all those impacted by this devastating fire and the first responders,” said Josh Holland, assistant director of the BG-RRT.
“This is another opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ, love the brokenhearted and allow the Lord to bind up the wounded,” said Jason Scalzi, a BG-RRT chaplain coordinator and retired police officer who is leading the team of chaplains in the Bronx.
“Sometimes just a hug or shoulder to cry on is better than any words could ever be,” he added. “We’ll be there to serve in any way that’s needed.”
Franklin Graham took to Twitter and encouraged people to pray: “Please pray for the families affected by this devastating fire, especially for those who lost loved ones.”
This deadly fire marks the first BG-RRT response of 2022.