By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
City Parks Worker Dana Campbell was at work on Jan. 9 when her children rang her cell phone.
“My son, 19, called me and said, ‘I smell something burning, but I don’t see anything,’” said Campbell, a Local 1505 member. “That was at 10 a.m. An hour later, they called again. I told them to call the Fire Department. I was on my way.”
Since 2007, the Campbell family has lived in apartment 3N at Twin Parks, a 19-story Bronx building. Unbeknown to them, the apartment next door, 3M, was ablaze.
Campbell’s young son, 14, had a sleepover with five of his friends. With Campbell’s adult children, there were 12 in her apartment that morning, according to the mother of seven. “My son opened the door and saw black smoke. I told them, ‘Stay together, stay inside, put wet towels down, and close the doors. I’m on my way,” she said.
Her instructions probably saved their lives.
Seventeen Twin Parks residents died in the deadly fire sparked by a space heater. It spread toxic smoke when the duplex apartment’s front door failed to close automatically. “Firefighters pulled seven unconscious casualties from the apartment next door,” Campbell said.
The Twin Parks tragedy was one of New York’s deadliest infernos. All of the victims, eight children and nine adults, died of smoke inhalation, the City coroner later said. Many residents left their apartments, walking into hallways filled with thick, black smoke with no escape.
Campbell said the short drive from her Parks Department job at Bailey Park seemed to take forever. Her job is about 12 minutes away. “My kids were frightened. My 19-year-old started to panic. I kept calm, telling him to take deep breaths. They were screaming as the walls and windows started cracking. They could see flames. I told them to go downstairs into my bedroom and put soaking wet towels at the door,” she said.
Surrounding streets were closed off to all but emergency vehicles as police, FDNY, and Local 2507 paramedics responded. Campbell parked two blocks away and ran to her Twin Parks building.
“FDNY was there, but on the other side of the building,” she said. “My oldest son, 28, was with me. We went under my windows. My 19-year-old yelled from my bedroom, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to die!’
“We had to get them out. We told the little kids to jump. My oldest son caught each one. Three of my kids, ages 17, 18, and 19, were still in the apartment. We pushed a dumpster under the window. Standing on the sidewalk, I watched as the windows went black. Firefighters saw us and came to help,” she said.
“We escaped with our lives and just the clothes on our backs,” Campbell said. “We lost everything.”
Repairs were always slow at the Section 8 building “except around inspection time,” Campbell said. Fire alarms regularly malfunctioned. Yet, Twin Parks was a close-knit community. Campbell reminisced, “Neighbors were friendly. We decorated for the holidays and celebrated birthdays together. We barbecued outside. My children lost friends who they will never play with again.”
The deadly fire turned the survivors’ lives upside down.
“When I learned that one of my members lived there, I had to help,” said Local 1505 President Dilcy Benn who got to work and raised $7,000 for the Campbell family. She collected donations from DC 37 leaders and staff, including a “huge donation of new clothing from DC 37 Health and Security Fund’s Jodi Goldman and her neighbors that completely filled my SUV.”
Benn collaborated with the union’s Personal Services Unit Director Stephanie Kleinberg to assist Campbell both emotionally and financially with two emergency grants that are available for fire victims. “The generosity and care shown by those union leaders and staff will never be forgotten,” Benn said.
The Campbell family is now living in two rooms in a Bronx hotel as they wait for permanent housing. Benn continues to bring them food and weekly donations.
“We are grateful to have somewhere to stay,” Campbell said. “This is a lesson in survival and endurance. We talk about it. We suffered a lot of loss—first COVID and now this—so we are not strangers to death and funerals. Sixty of my neighbors were hospitalized. I try not to see this as a tragedy—it’s our new reality.
“DC 37 has been amazing,” she said. “Between Dilcy [Benn]and PSU, we have coats, shoes, clothing, and food. I can’t tell you how appreciative we are. I’m not lacking support from my union.”
A week after the fire, Campbell received a debit card from the city, but “a lot of the help politicians promised us on TV hasn’t materialized. They come for the cameras, but I feel they’ve left us twisting in the wind.
“I lived at Twin Parks for 15 years. I don’t know how to look for an apartment or where to start to rebuild,” Campbell said.
When she expressed this to her union, PSU’s Kleinberg assigned a licensed social worker to help.
If you would like to donate to the Campbell family, please visit a Go Fund Me account set up for them: bit.ly/34xGjLs or Contact Local 1505 President Dilcy Benn at 347.231.7483.