Fire starts in microwave in Peter Cooper Village

Karen Moline opens the destroyed microwave. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Karen Moline opens the destroyed microwave. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Wednesday, August 27, a fire broke out in a Peter Cooper Village building that had started in a microwave. No one was injured and the fire, at 4 Peter Cooper Road, eventually burned itself out, even before Public Safety officers quickly arrived with a fire extinguisher. As for why it happened, that hasn’t been determined.

However, the resident of the apartment, Karen Moline, said she believes it was due to a problem with a defective appliance.

According to her, when the fire started, the Microwave had been turned off with nothing inside. Though that might sound odd, Moline said this isn’t the first time she’s had a problem with the electrical appliances in the apartment, where she’s lived for 10 years. Once, her freezer started smoking due to the fan belt blowing out. There’s also the air conditioner in the living room, which she said has been known to turn itself on. It’s now kept unplugged when not in use.

Unrelated though equally worrisome, the apartment also had a problem with black mold last year. The apartment was renovated during the Met Life era.

As for the recent fire, it was Moline’s 13-year-old son, Emmanuel, who discovered it. He’d been boiling water on the stove for pasta while she was in the living room.

“He called out at me in a panic, and said, ‘Ma, there’s a fire.”

Moline then saw for herself that “the whole interior was in flames.” Moline then called 911 while Emmanuel got on his cell and called the Public Safety department.

Public Safety officers got to the apartment first, then the Fire Department arrived (in slightly under four minutes after receiving the call). By then the fire had burnt itself out, since no one opened the microwave door. Moline said the fire was “active” for about four minutes. Oddly, the smoke alarm never went off.

Once firefighters arrived, they went to turn off the apartment’s fuses and saw that the fuses in the box were mislabeled. Later, engineers from Stuyvesant Town were at the scene and, said Moline, they found the wrongly labeled fuses “unbelievable. They were furious on my behalf.” The fuses have since been relabeled.

Though everyone who’d responded “couldn’t be nicer”, she said, one management employee who responded was skeptical when she told him there had been no food in the microwave.

Still, she understood how someone could be incredulous.

“He was the only one who looked at me like I was a liar. A Microwave spontaneously catching on fire? It is unbelievable. But if you’re the one person it happens to, it’s scary. What if I wasn’t home? Kids know to call 911, but when you panic, you’re not always thinking straight.”

On Monday, workers removed the microwave, the ceiling of which was scorched with pieces peeling off, and replaced it with a new one.

“I used it for 30 seconds. It hasn’t caught fire yet,” Moline joked.

As for the old microwave, Moline also said she was told by a service rep for GE that the company hadn’t had a recall for that model, numbered JNM1541DM5WW. She also said the person she spoke with told her no one would be able to say what the problem had been without looking at the microwave. The employee offered to have a technician look at it as soon as Tuesday if management requested it. However, Moline said she just wanted the appliance gone.

A spokesperson for GE, Kim Freeman, also told T&V there was no way to determine the problem without checking the appliance. However, she added that the “vast majority” of the time when there’s a fire, it is because of food.

“I can’t say anything about this particular issue because we didn’t get a chance to look at the unit,” she said, “but generally with microwave fires, it is food related, overcooked food.”

“They are electrical appliances and any electrical appliances could have an issue,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Fire Department told T&V the FDNY was not aware of similar incidents or of the cause of the incident, which was referred to as “an electrical emergency.”

A spokesperson for CWCapital did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Moline said she’s got some advice for management. “If you want to make money, spending money on good appliances is cost effective in the long run,” she said.

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