Two firefighters, Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, died in the fire that broke out from a discarded cigarette butt in the former Deutsche Bank building fire of August 18th, 2007 during the demolition of the building. After the death of a firefighter, the Fire Department always impanels a site inspections team to study any problems that might have contributed to the death.
A 176-page report written by safety chiefs investigating the blaze was made public this past Thursday, August 21st. A grand jury investigating the blaze is expected to issue indictments next month. Among the findings and recommendations made were the following: FDNY had not been conducting mandatory 15-day site inspections which may have led to firefighters being unaware of the broken standpipe and other safety hazards like sealed stairwells and busted sprinklers.
Three construction workers – including one who identified himself as the building manager – mistakenly told firefighters the standpipe was working when, in reality, a 40-foot-piece had been removed. The fire raged for more than an hour before firefighters were able to get water on the blaze; construction workers waited nearly 13 minutes before reporting the fire. It took FDNY units 67 minutes to get access to water because of a severed standpipe in the basement.
Contractors tearing down the building only had a series of alteration permits and never had a formal demolition permit, which might have required inspections of the building to have been done by agency inspectors, instead of by the licensed professionals. Sealed stairwells, broken sprinklers, plastic tarps and a negative air pressure machine that pushed the fire down, rather than up. Though FDNY protocol is for radio communication to cease when a “Mayday” is issued, continued radio chatter made it difficult for the officers on the ground to hear where the panicked firefighters were trapped.
Walkie-talkies failed, and critical calls for help went unheard. One firefighters radio problems forced him to crawl to the buildings edge to report that his two imperiled colleagues were trapped by stairwells that had been sealed off. The firefighter was not equipped with a radio device that had a remote emergency alert button on the microphone worn on the shoulder and outside the bunker gear that boosts the radio power to 5 watts from 2 watts. The Fire Department has been trying since 2002 to retrofit its radios with the feature, according to union officials.
Fire Department officials said that as of a month ago, every radio carried by every firefighter has the special button on its remote microphone. Prior to the fatal fire, six small fires were put out without Fire Department notification.
The company decontaminating and demolishing the tower, John Galt, did not have enough safety managers to watch for blowtorch sparks. The fire spewed impenetrable black smoke by burning heavy mesh wrapping the building to trap construction debris and thick plastic drapes hung from the walls to contain asbestos and other contaminants. Rather, they suggest that a series of building code violations led to the tragedy. The investigators called for the city’s Fire and Buildings Departments to work more closely, especially on sharing information about the construction, demolition and abatement of city buildings.
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