NEW YORK (AP) – A 20-year veteran city correction officer died Tuesday trying vainly to rescue her two young sons from a fire that destroyed their home, officials said.

As flames overtook the two-family house, neighbors saw 40-year-old Renee Chong moving around the structure. Rather than escape, she retreated inside to rouse the boys, aged 10 and 6, said Fire Department spokesman Jim Long.

“She was a pretty heroic person,” Long said.

Chong joined the city Correction Department in 1988 and had been a captain for the last eight years. Her most recent assignment was supervising correction officers in the Queens courts.

“The people who worked with her described her as very dynamic, a great leader who had the respect of her officers,” said Stephen Morello, the department’s deputy commissioner for public information.

Ronald Whitfield, the president of the correction captains’ union, said Chong was “a very loving person.”

“She cherished her children,” said Whitfield, who spoke by phone as he headed to Chong’s work site to arrange counseling for the officers she supervised. “That was the most important thing in her life.”

The cause of the 5 a.m. blaze in the Rosedale section of Queens was under investigation. The top floors of the two-story structure were engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived on the scene, and the second floor collapsed onto the first floor.

City Councilman James Sanders Jr., who visited the fire scene later Tuesday, called the blaze “a very horrific, terrible tragedy for the community.”

Sanders said he spoke with neighbors who complained that it took fire trucks too long to arrive.

Long, the Fire Department spokesman, said the response time from the first call was five minutes and 47 seconds, slightly above the citywide average of between four and five minutes.

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