A malfunctioning electric space heater caused Sunday’s fire at a 19-story building in the Bronx, fire officials said. The fire damaged only a small portion of the building, but smoke spilled through the apartment’s open door and turned the stairs into black death traps. Stairs are the only escape method in a tower that is too tall to escape a fire.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the front door of the apartment and a door on the 15th floor should have closed on its own to limit the spread of smoke, but the doors remained fully open. It is not clear if the door is mechanically damaged or disabled manually. Nigro said the apartment door was unobstructed.
Fire officials said thick smoke prevented some residents from escaping and incapacitated others as they tried to flee. The victims, many in cardiac arrest and respiratory arrest, were found on every floor. Firefighters proceeded to remove the limping children and give them oxygen and continued the rescue even after their air supply had run out.
Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay University in New York City, says closed doors are important for containing fire and smoke, especially in buildings that don’t have sprinkler systems. automatic.
“It’s quite remarkable how many deaths a broken door can lead to us here, but that’s the reality of it,” Corbett said. “A door that plays an important role in allowing a fire to spread and smoke and heat to propagate vertically through the building.”
Dozens of people were hospitalized, some of them in critical condition. Mayor Eric Adams called it an “indescribable tragedy” at a news conference near the scene on Monday.
“This tragedy will not define us,” Adams said. “It will show our resilience.”
Adams has reduced the death toll from an initial report on Sunday, saying that two fewer people have been killed than initially thought. Nigro said the patients were taken to seven hospitals and “had a slight score.”
City Council member Oswald Feliz said the dead included four-year-old children.
An investigation is underway to determine how the fire spread and whether anything can be done to contain or contain the blaze, Nigro said.
A fire department official said the space heaters had been running for a “long time” before the fire started. Spokesman Frank Dwyer said what caused it to malfunction was still under investigation. Dwyer said the fire then spread quickly to nearby furniture and bedding.
Nigro said heat was already rising in the building before the fire started, and space heaters were being used to supplement it.
But Stefan Beauvogui, who has lived with his wife in the building for about seven years, said colds are an ongoing problem in his fourth-floor apartment. Beauvogui says he has three space heaters for the winter – for the bedroom and living room. The heating system that was supposed to heat the apartment “didn’t work”. He said he made a complaint, but it still hasn’t been fixed.
Large, new apartment buildings are required to have sprinkler systems and interior doors that automatically close to prevent smoke and deoxygenate fires, but those rules don’t apply to thousands of older city buildings. city.
The building is equipped with self-closing doors and smoke alarms, but some residents said they initially ignored the alarms because they were so common in the 120-unit building.
Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, the corporation that owns the building, said it is fully cooperating with the fire department and city and working to assist residents.
“We are devastated by the unimaginable damage caused by this profound tragedy,” the statement said.
A spokeswoman for the ownership group, Kelly Magee, said that maintenance staff in July fixed the lock on the front door of the apartment where the fire started and, during repairs, checked that the self-closing door of the apartment was working. move or not. There were no reported problems with the door after that point, Magee said.
Residents who smoked in the stairwells sometimes tripped over fire alarms, and property managers worked with them to resolve the problem, Magee said. She said alarm systems appeared to be working properly on Sunday.
According to tower legislation, the tower is only equipped with sprinklers in the garbage compactor and laundry room because it has concrete ceilings and floors, she said.
Camber Property Group is one of three ownership group companies that purchased the building in 2020 as part of a $166 million purchase of eight affordable buildings in the county. One of Camber’s founders, Rick Gropper, served on Adams’ transition team, advising him on housing. He has contributed to dozens of politicians in the past few elections, including $400 to Adams’ campaign last year.
New York City has been slow to require sprinklers for older apartment buildings, passing legislation mandating the use of sprinklers in high-rise office towers after 9/11 but in recent years Recently, a bill requiring such measures in residential buildings has been opposed in recent years.
In 2018, a city lawmaker proposed requiring automatic fire sprinklers in residential buildings 40 feet tall or more by the end of 2029, but that measure was never passed and The legislator recently left office.
A sprinkler system set up by the heat in the apartment could have saved lives, said Ronald Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fire Service Foundation.
“It most likely put out that fire or at least got it under control and didn’t produce toxic fumes,” Siarnicki said, adding that groups of firefighters had been lobbying. for more stringent sprinkler system requirements over the years.
The building is home to many families of Gambian descent in West Africa.
Resident Karen Dejesus said she was used to hearing fire alarms go off.
“It wasn’t until I actually saw smoke coming out of the door that I realized it was an actual fire, and I started hearing people shouting, ‘Help! Help! Help!'”
Dejesus, who was staying in the two-story apartment with his 3-year-old son and niece, immediately called family members and ran to get a towel to put under the door. But smoke started to come down her stairs before the 56-year-old could get a towel, so the three ran to the back of the apartment.
“It was scary,” she said. “The reality is we’re in a building on fire and you don’t know how you’re going to get out. You don’t know if the firefighters will get to you in time.”
Firefighters broke open the door and helped all three out of the window and down the ladder to safety. Dejesus clung to her rescuer on the way down.
The fire was New York City’s deadliest since 1990, when 87 people died in the arson of the Happy Land social club, also in the Bronx. Sunday’s fire comes just days after 12 people, including eight children, were killed in a house fire in Philadelphia.
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https://abc13.com/bronx-fire-deadly-high-rise-nyc-children-killed/11450706/ Deadly Bronx Fire: Safety door broken in New York City high-rise fire kills 17