January 7th 1997 was a rather mild winter day, temperatures in the 40’s with wind gusts exceeding 30mph. These conditions would challenge firefighting operations in an afternoon fire.
Just after 2pm, Engine 40 responded to an EMS run at the Empire Hotel at West 64th Street & Broadway, Box 969. Up the block, a fire broke out in a high rise residential building.
2:31pm, the teleprinter in the Cavemen firehouse of Engine 40/Ladder 35 alerted members of Ladder 35 to a reported High Rise Fire, Box 9999 was used because Box 969 was out already for the EMS run. 20 West 64th Street Broadway – Central Park West. E=Multiple Dwelling: Fire 28th Floor Apt 28K AKA 1 Lincoln Plaza.
Ladder 35 hit 10-84 (arrival) at 2:34pm; members could see smoke from the 28th floor of the 44 story high rise multiple dwelling V shaped. Upon entry to the lobby, members were met by a female claiming to be the house keeper of Lionel Hampton. She said the bedroom of the apartment 28K was on fire, the apartment door was closed and handed them the keys. Lt Gormley L-35, and his men proceeded to the elevator bank that serviced the upper floors. A keyed switch was found in the lobby and that recalled the elevators. FF James O’Donnell, L-35 OVM attempted to locate the elevator with the control key but none had it. The members entered the elevator and FF O’Donnell pressed 26th floor, 2 floors below the fire floor as per procedure. When they arrived, the doors opened to a smoke filled hallway. Members of Ladder 35 located the ‘You Are Here’ sign in the hallway then located Apt 26K to have an idea of where the apartment on the fire floor would be and where the stairs were located in relation to the ‘K’ line apartments. Lt Gormley decided the ‘V’ stair was closest to 28K and would be used as the ‘Attack’ stairway. The members proceeded up the stairs to the fire floor. FF O’Donnell stayed with the elevator and attempted to return to the lobby to pick up Engine 23. The elevator wasn’t in Fireman Service, it went up instead of down. FF O’Donnell was placed in a high heat and smoke environment and had to don his SCBA. The elevator brought him to the 43rd floor.
At 2:36pm, the 9th Battalion arrived to assume command. FF O’Donnell attempted to transmit from the 43rd floor to Chief Grosso in the lobby but the only person to hear his communications was FF Ed Santore, E-40 ECC, who arrived 3rd due coming from the EMS run. FF Santore relayed to Deputy Chief Dunn of the 3rd Division, the report by FF O’Donnell that conditions on the upper floors were deteriorating.