NEW YORK (AP) _ As ceremonial purple and black bunting was draped around the doors of two fire halls, investigators sifted through the scorched remains of a suburban hardware store where a fiery explosion killed three firefighters.
The store had recently been inspected for safety hazards and had never been cited for violations but a number of potentially explosive materials were stored in the basement of the Long Island General Supply Co., the site of Sunday's blast.
The business had permits to store paint thinners and lacquers and did not need a permit to store 1-pound cylinders of propane because businesses are allowed to have up to 156 such cylinders, Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said Monday.
But propane must be stored above ground, and Von Essen said boxes of the 1-pound cylinders were found in the store basement. The business will likely be fined.
Von Essen added that ``we have no reason to believe at this point that that was the cause of the explosion or that it exacerbated the explosion.''
He said any of the materials for which the store had permits could have caused the blast, which occurred about 30 minutes after the fire began.
``Firefighters on the first floor said that the explosion caused them to be lifted up and thrown against the ceiling,'' Von Essen said. ``So to lift up a 200-pound person and 100 pounds of equipment, it had to be a violent explosion.''
Two victims, Harry Ford, 50, and John Downing, 40, were crushed to death when the roof and facade tumbled onto them. Brian Fahey, 46, was trapped inside the building and had radioed for assistance.
``He called for help twice _ he said, `I'm trapped, I'm downstairs. Please come and get me,''' recalled firefighter John Gaines. ``Unfortunately, we did not get there in time.''
A fourth firefighter, Joseph Vosilla, was critically injured and Fire Lt. Brendan Manning was listed in serious but stable condition Monday. About 50 rescue workers and two civilians were also hurt, most were treated in hospital and released.
The explosion, which occurred shortly before 3 p.m., destroyed the building's brick facade, left the roof partially collapsed and gutted four apartments above the store. The fire was declared under control at 2:40 a.m. Monday.
A message left with the store's owner, Randall Gordon, was not immediately returned.
The firefighters, all from Long Island, are survived by a total of eight children.
Ford and Fahey will be buried Thursday, while funeral services for Downing are scheduled for Friday.
The fire commissioner speculated Monday that the men would have survived if the building had been equipped with a sprinkler system. The store's owner wasn't required to have sprinklers because the store was located in a 128-year-old building erected before city laws required such systems.
``Even if the law doesn't require you to have a sprinkler, if you put a sprinkler in your basement, this doesn't happen,'' Von Essen said.