Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Questions Surround the Fatal Duetsche Bank Fire

On Saturday night, two FDNY firefighters were killed in the Deutsche Bank building, a 40 story toxic hulk that hovered over Ground Zero for the past six years.

It was in the process of being demolished, floor by floor, when Saturday’s blaze broke out. There was only one freight elevator available, as the primary, initial access into the building and because the nearby Fire Company wasn’t allowed to inspect the building due to high levels of asbestos, lead, mercury and other hazardous materials, first arriving Units didn’t know whether the Stand Pipe system worked...it didn’t.

As a result, 23 year veteran Robert Beddia (age 53) and 8 year veteran Joseph Graffagnino (age 33, he’d have been 34 yesterday – 8-20-07) from the same firehouse (Engine-24/Ladder-5) were killed.

Worse still, they died for nothing, in an empty building that no one wanted standing any longer. There was no life hazard in that building, except that of the firefighter’s who entered. There wasn’t even any real property value worth securing either, as the building was in the process of demolition.

It seems that both Beddia and Graffagnino were caught in the maze-like building, in blinding smoke, as their air ran out.

Because of the standpipe failure, there was a very long delay in getting water on the fire numerous members inside the building got lost at various times – many Maydays were transmitted, many from lost firefighters, fearing their air supply was dwindling.

The fire was initially reported on the seventeenth floor. Firefighters made it to the fifteenth floor before being forced to retreat. Both Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino were found on the fourteenth floor.

Another problem firefighters encountered was that the walls of the building had been coated with a thick polyurethane covering to prevent the release of the toxic soup inside that building, but once the fire broke out, those coated walls held in and intensified the intense heat and added to the thick, blinding smoke condition.

At least one of the building’s two standpipe systems (a system that allows FDNY Units to pump water through that building) was supposed to be operational and neither was on Saturday. As of yesterday, City officials still didn’t know why.

UFA President Steve Cassidy called the building “a vertical Love Canal.

The saddest thing of all is that two NYC firefighters were killed in a building in which there was no life hazard, and one that was in the process of being torn down.

Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College and technical adviser to the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, asked the following questions;
1) How is it that two firefighters are dead because a standpipe wasn't working in a skyscraper that was being demolished?
2) How come the fuel load in the building was so big? "There was all of this plywood and apparently, polyurethane kept in the building — that increased the fuel load and caused the fire to spread," Corbett said. Why didn't they use sheet metal or gypsum board? They're more expensive than plywood, but they're not combustible, Corbett said.
3) How is it that downtown residents had raised questions about fire safety and toxicity at the former Deutsche Bank building for years, yet there was no comprehensive fire prevention or fire safety plan in place despite all the assurances from officials?
They’re all good questions.

Unfortunately they come to light too late for Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino.


Rachel said...

I'm so sorry about those losses, JMK. Hopefully, there will be some real explanation to it. You all have my condolences.

JMK said...

The worst thing in this case, Rachel is that they died in a building that probably already should've been taken down and where there was no other life hazard at the time they entered.

The FDNY operates on the principle that there you can never assume there's no life hazard, as squatters, workman and others may be in such buildings unbeknownst to us, but the fact that this building probably already should've been demolished makes these deaths even more senseless.

Mick Brady said...

Sorry to hear about the unnecessary loss of two brave men. The bottom line here is, who is to blame? Is it the city? The owners? Where does this buck stop, and what lessons can be learned from it for the future? Any ideas, J?

JMK said...

I think they're trying to sort all that out Mick.

Reports said that a Labor dispute held up the demolition and that the building already should've been taken down.

The Fire Company responsible for Building Inspections in that area wasn't allowed in to inspect that building to make sure the standpipes were working, due to all the hazardous materials inside.

So the Fire Dept didn't know there wasn't an operable standpipe in the building.

Then there was the decision by someone to cut costs by insulating the interior walls of the building with plywood covered in polyurethane, rather than sheet metal, or some other more costly, less flammable alternative. THAT was a critical decision, probably made by the owners looking to take the most cost-effective alternative, since the building was coming down anyway.

It looks like there's a lot of blame to go around.

gerry rosser said...

The families and friends of the two lost firefighters have my unmitigated heartfelt sympathy, and gratitude for being the support community for these brave men.

As far as I'm concerned, these heroes (not a word you'll see me use "liberally") were victims of the same anti-life religion as the prior victims of 9/11, that being Islam. They were also victims of incompetent government (in this case mostly the city of New York).

JMK said...

No one seems to know why that building was even standing any more.

Labor disputes and other legal wrangling had delayed the demolition.

Worse still, is why wasn't the nearest fire company allowed to inspect that building?

It's been reported that Engine 10 was told they weren't allowed access due to the highly toxic condition of the building.

Does that make ANY sense?

The Fire Department's job is dealing with dangerous conditions!

Then logistically, there's the decision to send all those members up into a building with limited access (the interior stairs were blocked, so the primary access was via one working freight elevator) and NO water (both standpipe systems weren't working).

As Engine company guys routinely tell Truckies (Ladder company guys), "You can't put a fire out with a hook, you need the hoses."

Well, reportedly, for over an hour there wasn't any water available to those initial attack Units.

Beyond that, the initial fire was reported on the 17th floor, so guys were sent to the 16th, while it turned out that the fire was on the 14th floor!

There were a lot of problems...a lot of blame to go around.

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