Inquiry into deadly high-rise fire in NYC

Investigators suggest that a series of building code violations--and perhaps firefighting problems, as well--led to the tragedy.


According to a recent New York Times article , contractors tearing down the contaminated former Deutsche Bank building in Lower Manhattan never had a formal demolition permit, even though they were undertaking one of the most complicated efforts ever to dismantle a skyscraper.

When a fire broke out Aug. 18 at the tower, it took roughly 80 minutes to get water on the flames, in part because workers there waited some 13 minutes to call 911 and then gave firefighters inaccurate information about whether emergency equipment at the site was working.

This mistake should make engineers, both those who design buildings and those who facilitate demolition, think twice. For example, in the article “ Re-thinking high-rise egress, top to bottom ,” the author discusses how designers devise more efficient ways to get building occupants out—and first responders in.

And communication lapses further disrupted the firefighting response in New York City. Walkie-talkies failed, and critical calls for help went unheard. Men were lost in the confusion. One firefighter’s radio problems forced him to crawl to the building’s edge to report that two imperiled colleagues were trapped by stairwells that had been sealed off. Both men were killed.

Those are among the dozens of findings by a team of investigators who were enlisted by the New York Fire Dept. to conduct a formal inquiry into the deadly fire, according to people who have been briefed on the departmental investigation or have seen its findings. Those people said the report issued by investigators—which has not been publicly released—finds fault or concern with many aspects of the building’s demolition and the response to the fire.

The report, presented to fire union officials in a tightly controlled meeting at Fort Totten in Queens, will be turned over to the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau. His office has undertaken a broad criminal inquiry into the fire at the high-rise building, which was being simultaneously decontaminated and dismantled, floor by floor, after being damaged on Sept. 11, 2001, and contaminated by toxic substances.

This is not the first time fire codes have been violated. In June, several commercial buildings had outstanding fire code violations , resulting in the arrest of more than 100 people.

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