During the Chaos, Coordination Between FIT, NYPD, Penn South

Police Officer Daniel Sendrowski, seen here, was one block away at the time of the bombing, driving on W. 23rd St. along with Officer John Campanella. They were the NYPD’s first on the scene. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | Until about 8 p.m. the night of Sept. 17, 2016, it had been a normal shift for police officers Daniel Sendrowski and John Campanella, part of the NYPD’s 10th Precinct.

“We were doing our regular thing driving around,” Sendrowski recalled. “We were on 23rd St. between Fifth and Sixth Avenues when we saw the device go off. We saw a flash and a lot of smoke. When we saw it go off, we hit the lights.

“Me and John were literally first on the scene.”

For Sendrowski, it took a few minutes before it become clear what was happening. Initially, since the bombing happened near a site with scaffolding and dumpsters, he thought it might have been something to do with construction.

“As I saw the more broad picture, it really started to register this is more of an explosion. At that point I ran over to the car, grabbed the crime tape and started to rope off the area,” he told Chelsea Now at the 10th Precinct earlier this week.

They radioed for back up. At the 10th Precinct on W. 20th St. (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) — a stone’s throw from where the bombing happened at W. 23rd St. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.) — many had felt the explosion, Sendrowski recalled.

The 10th shares a radio frequency with the 13th Precinct — the bombing took place within its borders — and both precincts sprung to action, sending personnel to the scene. The two precincts work together often, he said.

“When we got there, there was smoke in the air. Debris all over the road,” he said.

There was a dumpster thrown across the street, he said, with orange and white traffic dividers in the road along with pieces of plants and trees all over the place.

A taxi that had been going east on W. 23rd St. had stopped in the middle of the road when the explosion happened, he said. The driver was fine, and Sendrowski and Campanella began to evacuate the area — mostly people working on the block — and to secure the scene for detectives.

Sendrowski, a cop of 10 years, said, “A lot of that night is a big haze for me — I was caught up in the moment.”

“It was chaotic,” he remembered.

But, “Training kicked in and you acted according to your training.”

Part of that training is the hammering home that there could be a secondary device, he noted, adding, “I was very concerned there might be another one in the immediate area.”

Detective Mike Petrillo, longtime Community Affairs Officer for the 10th, said the NYPD is cognizant of possible secondary or tertiary devices, and a “frozen zone” is created with the area cordoned off. That night, there was indeed a second device — not on 23rd, but a few streets over on W. 27th (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves).

Longtime Chelsea resident Jane Schreibman was passing by and noticed a pot with wires sticking out of it. Her call to 911 “probably saved a few people’s lives with that,” Petrillo said.

Petrillo was at home on Staten Island when he got the call about the bombing, and as he drove into the city, he started calling anywhere from 20 to 40 people from the community, including elected officials.

“My main focus as a Community Affairs Officer is to liaison,” he said in a phone interview, “to keep it calm and keep the flow of information both ways.”

A police officer for 28 years, Petrillo was assigned to the 10th in 1990, and has been a Community Affairs Officer since 2003.

“The partnership with the community is great,” he said. Petrillo reached out to State Senator Brad Hoylman and Councilmember Corey Johnson’s offices, both of which offered resources. He called Miguel Acevedo, president of the Fulton Houses Tenants’ Association, and Darlene Waters, president of the Elliott-Chelsea Houses Tenants’ Association.

Petrillo was in constant contact with the community, including Larry O’Neill, Penn South Security Chief, and Mario Cabrera, Director of Public Safety for the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

FIT public safety personnel were honored at the 10th Precinct’s Annual Police Awards Dinner on June 27, for their response to the Chelsea bombing. L to R: Mark Walters, Moises Felix, Vivian Nunes, Nicholas Camacho, Barney Bonets, Matthias Scholar, Sean Tucker, Mortimer Chillcott, Sandy Dickens, Bruce Etoumou, and Mohammed Omar. File photo by Jackson Chen.

“We’re very lucky with both groups,” he said of the security personnel of FIT and Penn South.

O’Neill got the call from Petrillo, and, “Once you wake me up with something of that nature, I don’t go back to sleep.”

He instructed his patrolmen to make sure all the dumpsters were sealed, to have more patrols on Eighth and Ninth Aves., and to remove any garbage cans inside and around the perimeter of Penn South.

O’Neill offered the use of the complex’s community rooms for a staging area and offered assistance, but the NYPD had it in hand, he said by phone.

“He was really great,” O’Neill said of Petrillo. “I’m lucky — the 10th Precinct always keeps me in the loop. They do a fine, outstanding job. The communication is phenomenal. They treat us like partners.”

O’Neill started working at Penn South, which runs from W. 23rd St. to W. 29th Sts. from Eighth to Ninth Aves., in November 1985, working his way from patrolmen to Sergeant to Captain to Security Chief, and said he feels “like I live here” in Chelsea (he lives in Washington Heights).

Penn South General Manager Brendan Keany said he was made aware of the bombing from an assistant commissioner for the city’s Housing Preservation and Development, the agency that oversees the complex.

“Even though it was a block away, we weren’t really affected,” Keany said by phone.

Nonetheless, there was still concern, and security made sure to build a strong perimeter on Eighth Ave., said Keany, who has worked at the complex for 32 years.

“No possibility that anybody could come on our property to do anything nefarious,” he said. “We also secured all the garbage cans on the Eighth Avenue side immediately.”

Both Keany and O’Neill praised their security staff of 25, which they say undergo thorough background checks from them as well as the NYPD when they go for a special patrolmen certification. The security staff also goes to CERT training for disaster preparedness (CERT stands for Community Emergency Response Team).

“My security officers are not run-of-the-mill,” O’Neill said.

Penn South has 2,820 units and about 4,500 tenants, Keany said, and an email blast was sent to residents to keep them aware of the situation. About 75 to 80 percent of residents are on the email blast, he noted. For older tenants not on the list, a notice was put up between the elevators on the ground floor, O’Neill said.

Over at 227 W. 27th St. and Seventh Ave., Sergeant José Santiago, a member of FIT’s security personal, “had actually heard the blast on 23rd St. He sent an officer over to investigate what had happened,” Cabrera told Chelsea Now by phone.

Santiago notified Cabrera, and put everyone on heightened alert and to be extra cautious, he said.

After the blast, at around 11 p.m., Santiago got a call from the NYPD there was a second device half a block east of FIT, Cabrera recalled.

FIT has three dorms on campus, with about 500 residents per dorm, he said, and that Saturday night, Cabrera estimated around 300 to 400 people, including staff, were told to shelter in place after the second device was discovered.

“In the event of a possible explosion, you don’t want people going out,” he explained.

Meanwhile, FIT’s security staff “checked in between parked cars, the campus’ landscaping — trees, bushes — any place something might have been left behind,” he said.

The all clear was given around 2 a.m., and Cabrera said, “There was prevailing calm. The effort between our guys and the NYPD was seamless. It was a well-organized response.”

Cabrera has worked at FIT for eight years, and has been in his current position for three years, and knows Petrillo well — they often coordinate, including move-in day and campus safety events.

“We didn’t have to work to establish communication at the scene,” he said. “I could not have expected a better outcome. Everyone did a fantastic job. It is a model for future events.”

Petrillo said, “Having those secondary eyes and ears is key. We rely on our partnerships. It’s always a collaborative effort between Penn South, FIT and the precinct,” as well as the housing developments in the neighborhood — Fulton Houses and Elliott-Chelsea Houses.