A Trinitarios gang member was allegedly responsible for the fire on Rikers Island that injured eight and quickly engulfed a housing unit in “dark and heavy smoke,” according to Department of Correction sources and records.
The blaze broke out about 8:15 p.m. Friday after an inmate splashed his dinner in the face of a correction officer, who had to be escorted to a clinic by his supervisor, according to the correction officers union.
The inmate knew the officer wouldn’t be replaced because of the staffing crisis at the jail complex, the union said.
Then another inmate, Eric Leon, set his linens on fire inside his cell in the North Infirmary Command and a second inmate, also a gang member, participated by tossing a plastic bag into the flames, internal records obtained by The Post show.
Two correction captains and an officer tried unsuccessfully to put out the blaze before calling for help, the records show.
They went from cell to cell to evacuate inmates they could barely see through the smoke, according to to the records
Patrick Ferraiuolo, the president of the Correction Captains’ Association, hailed the captains and officers.
“If not for their actions, there is no doubt due to the extremely heavy smoke conditions inmates would have lost their lives. Unfortunately inmates starting fires has become a regular occurrence with no punitive action taken against them. It is time for the department heads to wake up before somebody loses their life in a fire,” he said.
Three correction officers and two captains were treated at Mount Sinai Queens Hospital in Astoria for smoke inhalation, according to the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association and documents.
The FDNY said one firefighter and two inmates were also injured in the fire, which was under control in an hour.
Leon was somehow able to start another fire using the mattress in his cell at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, but it was quickly extinguished, records show.
COBA President Benny Boscio said the city needed to hire 2,000 more officers “before someone gets killed.”
“The department’s failure to hire more officers has turned our jails into ticking time bombs that will explode at any minute. On top of not hiring enough staff, the department isn’t even giving refresher classes in fire safety to the officers we do have,” Boscio said.
A Correction Department spokesman praised the guards who responded.
“Our officers responded to these incidents quickly and we are pursuing re-arrest and arson charges for the individuals involved. As the federal monitor has noted, when officers show up to work we have ample staff to provide safety, security, and to train regularly,” the spokeswoman said. “We commend the hardworking officers who come to work every day and will continue our measures to ensure that every available officer is on duty.”
The DOC said it had more than 90 correction officers in training and that several thousand people had just passed the exam to become an officer.