September 26, 2023


WAPPINGERS FALLS – An elderly woman rescued from a smoke-filled apartment said she “wouldn’t have made it … if not for” firefighters who got her out of the home.

Christina Augoustatos, 64, who lives with her family in a third-floor apartment in the Wappingers Falls Owners Corporation complex, located on Route 9 in the village was home alone on Friday night when she noticed her apartment filling with smoke, due to a kitchen fire on the second floor of the complex.

“It was terrible … I was so scared,” said Augoustatos, who added that there was so much smoke in her home, she couldn’t see the walls.

The hallway outside Augoustatos’ apartment had also filled with smoke, so she went out to her balcony and called 911.

Firefighters from the Village of Wappingers Falls Fire Department and New Hamburg Fire District responded, and Village fire Chief Jason Enson and New Hamburg assistant Chief Brian Whitten “went up” to Augoustatos’ balcony to get her down, the chief said.

“Thank God … if not for the two guys, I wouldn’t have made it,” said, Augoustatos, who lives with her husband, daughter and four-year-old granddaughter. “There’s so much smoke in … the hallway, the stairs. We can’t even see the wall, it was black.”

Augoustatos said she was “so dizzy … I couldn’t stand up … I can’t even breathe. I got scared and panicked. They (Enson and Whitten) both helped me” use a breathing mask.

The fire started around 7:16 p.m., when the second-floor resident “was cooking something,” Enson said. “She must have had grease leftover … she (the second-floor resident) told me she threw water on it, and it got bigger.”

The fire displaced the family of four — a couple along with their 18-month old and 6-week-old children — who had just moved into the second-floor apartment.

There was no smoke detector in the family’s apartment; “You could see the bracket … (from) where it” had been, Enson said.

The family of four was displaced, in part because their kitchen is a “total loss,” Enson said. There was also minor water damage.

Firefighters put out the fire in “about five minutes,” the chief added.

The family of four was assisted by the Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross and “volunteers will remain available to help the family navigate the road to recovery,” the organization said via news release.

Augoustatos and family are staying in a hotel while their apartment, which they’ve lived in for 15 years, is cleaned, she said.

It is not known why the new residents didn’t have a smoke detector installed, and since they were aware of the fire, the lack of the alarm didn’t harm them, but Enson said having a working smoke alarm is an overwhelmingly important fire safety measure.

Wappingers has had two fatal fires since 2013 — in March 2013, a 54-year-old father of three was killed in a blaze that motivated officials to revamp and enforce local fire and building safety standards, and in April 2014, a fire at Domino’s Pizza killed 19-year-old local Adam Justinano.

In 2014, Enson estimated that about 30 percent of the homes that the village fire department responds to have no alarms or working alarms, according to Journal archives.

The Wappingers Falls Owners Corporation complex, formerly known as Ashley Gardens, is a mix of apartment renters and owners. Representatives of the corporation could not be reached for comment by press time.

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