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Apprehension, Then Relief, For William St. Studio Owner Who Spotted Fire

Frank Valbiro was broadcasting live from his Port Chester studio when the room began filling up with smoke.

Frank Valbiro and his co-hosts had just finished their Tuesday night broadcast of Zedalza New York, a show produced out of their ground-floor studio on William Street in Port Chester.

The broadcast went into overtime, with Valbiro sitting down at a drum set while viewers exchanged messages on the show's online chat channel.

Viewers tuned into the show on that night, Jan. 10, were treated to a bit of unscripted drama -- the camera kept running as the hosts abandoned the studio, dialed 911, and ran outside as engines from the Port Chester Fire Department arrived.

About 30 minutes in, Valbiro was still playing along to an audio track when he stopped, mouthed "What?" and pulled the headphones off his ears.

Confused voices could be heard from a hallway outside, followed by surprised exclamations.

"There's smoke in here," said an off-camera voice. "There's smoke in the broadcast room, everyone get out now!"

"We started smelling smoke and the room started filling up with smoke," Valbiro said. "We ran down the hall, and that's when we noticed the smoke was getting thicker and there was water spewing on the side of the hallway."

The water was coming from a spinkler system upstairs, which activated after a freak fire -- according to the Port Chester Fire Department, a contractor working in an upstairs office loft had left polyurethane-soaked rags out in the open. As fumes built up in the office, the rags and dust from a commercial sander ignited, starting the fire.

"If that fire had gone undetected or the sprinklers had not worked, we would have had a major fire," fire Chief Kevin McFadden said the next morning, hours after some 20 firefighters from his department responded to the midnight blaze.

McFadden also credited the crew at Zedalza for quickly dialing 911. Although the sprinkler system kicked in, there was no automatic fire alarm. If the studio staff hadn't called authorities, the fire could have spread beyond the office loft.

"It didn't touch any of our stuff, thank God, but it was pretty scary," Valbiro said.

In the meantime, like almost every recent fire in Port Chester, the blaze at 200 William St. led to the discovery of safety hazards. Inspectors from the Department of Code Enforcement have made several return trips to the building, and Assistant Village Manager Christopher Steers said he expects a report this week detailing a long list of violations.

The crew at Zedalza has been allowed to return to their studio, where productions range from a talk program about mixed martial arts to music recording. The ceiling has been patched up, sealing a section where water was pouring down on the night of the fire, and Valbiro said he feels lucky to have escaped unscathed.

"For the most part," he said, "things have returned to normal."

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