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Faced with horrific choice, a Brooklyn firefighter-in-training and girlfriend die as home burns

Firefighters examine the bedroom where the young couple were found. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Steven Munoz and his girlfriend awoke Wednesday morning inside their burning Brooklyn apartment and faced a grim choice — try to avoid the flames and smoke in their home while hoping help would come in time, or jump four stories out their window to a concrete sidewalk below.

They chose the former — and Munoz, 22, and now his girlfriend, 22-year-old Destiny Marmolejo, paid with their lives. She is listed as living on Union Street.

Firefighters found the couple unconscious in their bedroom at around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 22 while responding to the blaze on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. Munoz, said to be a strapping and athletic six-footer, was pronounced dead at Methodist Hospital, according to police.

His girlfriend, Marmolejo, was scooped up by Squad 1 firefighters, was last reported in critical condition at Methodist. However, police report she has succumbed to her injuries.

“He was in training to become a firefighter,” said a neighbor who identified himself only as Joe.

Joe told amNewYork Metro he was awaken by his French bulldog, Betty, and was able to get out of the apartment on the fourth-floor. His neighbor was not so lucky.  

Firefighters examine the main area of the fire on the fourth floor of 155 Fifth Avenue – a fire escape at the window was inaccessible. (Photo by Todd Maisel)
A row of charred athletic trophies sat on a mantle in the apartment. (Photos by Todd Maisel)

Officials say Munoz and his girlfriend Marmolejo were sleeping in the front bedroom at 2:05 a.m. when they discovered the apartment filling with smoke. Smoke detectors in the hallway were said to be going off at the time.

A heavy gray curtain was the only thing separating their bedroom from the flames. Their only escape would have been leaping out a nearby window to the sidewalk below — a leap that may have resulted in certain death. Instead, they chose to remain inside.

Firefighters found a rear fire escape with a locked burglar gate and had to force their way into the apartment through that and a steel door that separated them from the narrow hallway. When they got into the apartment, they found the kitchen area completely engulfed in flames.

Firefighters from Squad 1 on Union Street battled their way to the bedroom where they found the couple and dragged them out of the apartment to waiting EMS units.

The fire, which reached a second-alarm, bringing in more than 100 firefighters, was brought under control by 3:02 a.m. By the end of the fire,  the apartment was heavily gutted and a hole straight through the roof. Apartments below suffered heavy smoke and water damage.

Fire marshals were on the scene by daybreak investigating the cause of the fire, but at this point, it’s not considered suspicious.

This was the fifth and sixth fire fatality in New York City since Monday – last night, mourners memorialized an 11-year-old who died in a Monday night fire. Her body was flown to Israel for burial.

Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro announced at the beginning of the New Year that the city had 66 civilian fire deaths in 2019, 25% fewer deaths than in 2018, when 88 people lost their lives in fires. This marks the fourteenth consecutive year there have been fewer than 100 fire-related deaths, an unprecedented period in New York City history.

Many fatal fires occur during this season as more people are indoors and are using dangerous space heaters, are using defective wiring or are using items that could cause a fire.

The FDNY urges residents to make sure batteries are replaced in smoke detectors.

A hallway leads to the bedroom that was separated from the fire by a curtain. (Photo by Todd Maisel)
Firefighters examine the apartment after the fire. (Photo By Todd Maisel)
The young couple had only to face the fire or a four story drop to escape. (Photo by Todd Maisel)
Betty the French bulldog, saved his owner when she woke him from sleep in an apartment across from where the fire was raging. (Don’t put your hand too close, she bites). (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Todd Maisel