Deutsche Bank-Fire Lesson: Increase N.Y. City Fire Inspections

November 9, 2007

Firefighters will inspect city buildings for three more hours a week and submit reports higher up the chain of command after a review prompted by the August fire that killed two firefighters at a ground zero skyscraper, the fire commissioner said this week.

The department examined its inspections after the Aug. 18 blaze at the former Deutsche Bank tower, where a broken standpipe hampered firefighting efforts in a building that hadn’t had a fire inspection in over a year.

Fire companies will increase inspection time from six hours to nine hours a week of buildings that are either occupied or construction sites, Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said.

Scoppetta had said that there are tens of thousands of buildings to inspect _ including more than 400 under construction. Officials have said firefighters now get called away from inspections more than half of the time to fight fires.

Fire safety expert Glenn Corbett said additional hours will make little difference, because the department needs more staff to inspect buildings. He noted that response to an emergency could be delayed if a company is in the middle of a building inspection.

“It’s one thing if you’re inspecting a two-story house, it’s another thing if you’re in a high-rise building,” said Corbett, a John Jay College professor. “How long is it going to delay your response time?”

Department spokesman Jim Long said no new hires were planned for inspections, and that emergency response remained its priority.

Scoppetta also said inspection reports would now be reviewed by borough commanders; previously, the reports would only be sent to department division heads. The department also is creating a computer index of tall buildings being built or demolished, and said the city Buildings Department would notify the fire department of new construction permits issued.

Scoppetta said the new program will give firefighters “a firsthand look at buildings before an emergency arises.”

The department had no plan to fight a blaze at the toxic, partially dismantled ground zero tower before the fire. Firefighters said they had to navigate partially blocked stairwells and a maze of floors sealed with flammable plastic material. Firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino died of cardiac arrest after their air tanks ran out of oxygen.

Three fire officials were reassigned after the blaze. A criminal investigation is under way into who was responsible for the blaze and the oversight of the state-owned building. The dismantling of the building is on hold.

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