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Man saved after subway fall dies in fire

The man who was rescued by a good Samaritan last month when he fell from a subway platform died early Saturday in an apartment fire.

The fire broke out in the rear apartment of the two-story building at 2972 Bailey Ave., between Millicent Street and Phyllis Avenue shortly before 1 a.m. Two men, Joseph Balsano and John Ciszek, lived in the apartment.

Balsano said he tried but failed to save the 59-year-old Ciszek. "I tried going to his bedroom, but the doorknob was too hot. I couldn't do it," said Balsano, dressed only in a T-shirt, jeans and socks at about 1:45 a.m.

Roughly an hour earlier, Balsano had been asleep in his room when he was awakened. "I heard the smoke alarm going off. That's what woke me up," Balsano said.

In addition to the temperature of the doorknob preventing him from opening the door, Balsano said it was clear to him that his roommate's bedroom was engulfed in smoke and flames. "I didn't want to open [the door] because there might be like a back draft," he said.

"My roommate was smoking cigarettes in bed. He was always doing that. I told him not to. He had burns all over his sheets," Balsano said.

Balsano identified Ciszek as the man who collapsed April 5 and fell from the Utica Street subway platform. He was saved when Steven Love, a cook at TGI Friday's in Amherst who was on his way to work, jumped down onto the tracks and lifted him up. The train operator stopped the train just in time.

Firefighters arrived on the scene of Saturday's fire at about 1 a.m., according to witnesses, one of whom said she called 911 on her cellphone at 12:53 a.m.

Buffalo Fire Department Division Chief Patrick Britzzalaro described "heavy fire conditions" in the first-floor rear apartment where the two men lived. The blaze extended to the second floor of the building and a crawl space above that, Britzzalaro said. The chief said that after a primary search of the building, firefighters found the victim.

Some witnesses said they attempted to help Balsano find his roommate but were also thwarted by the intense heat, smoke and flames. "I kicked the back door open, and me and my brother, we went in the building and walked up the steps, and that's when the smoke hit," said one witness, who declined to give his name.

The first floor of the building also houses Darlene's Bailey Vacuum & Sewing Center, where Balsano said he occasionally worked.

When he could not gain access to Ciszek during the fire, Balsano said he escaped through his bedroom window.

Balsano said he had lived in the apartment for about five years. He said Ciszek began rooming with him about four years ago. Buffalo police confirmed the victim's identity Saturday evening.

Britzzalaro said the fire caused an estimated $65,000 to the building and about $30,000 to its contents. A neighboring building at 2970 Bailey Ave. sustained about $10,000 in exterior damage and there was about $3,000 damage to the exterior of 2976 Bailey Ave.