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Press Releases / 2005 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 24, 2005

MEDIA BRIEFING/UPDATE ON BRONX AND BROOKLYN
FATAL FIRES

Overview

The Fire Department has launched a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the fatal fires at 236 E. 178th Street in the Bronx and 577 Jerome Street in Brooklyn. The Department’ s Safety Command is reviewing all evidence in this ongoing investigation. Below is a preliminary update on several issues that have surfaced since these incidents:

  • Fire marshals have made a preliminary determination of the cause of the fire in Brooklyn: combustible materials in close proximity to an electric space heater in the basement.
  • Cause of the Bronx fire was, according to marshals, an overheated extension cord. An occupant who discovered the fire was awakened by the sound of sparking from the cord, which was located between his bed and a wall. He pulled the bed away from the wall, saw the sparking wire and then noticed his mattress and bedding material had caught fire. He briefly tried to put the fire out - was unsuccessful - then alerted everyone in the apartment and fled.
  • Part of the investigation of the Bronx fire will focus on possible illegal alterations that appear to have been made in the fourth floor apartment where firefighters were trapped, and which prevented them from accessing a second means of egress (fire escape).
  • The Department’s Safety Command is in possession of digitally recorded audio containing the handie-talkie (radio) transmissions between firefighters and officers at the Bronx fire. The tape is a critical piece of evidence in the investigation. The recordings were made through a device installed in Battalion 17’s suburban vehicle - one of three such devices in three of the Department’s 50 battalion cars citywide (the others are Battalion 7 in Manhattan and Battalion 31 in Brooklyn). There are no such recordings for the fatal fire in Brooklyn.
  • As a result, Commissioner Scoppetta has ordered expansion of the pilot program throughout the city. This initiative to place recorders in all 50 battalions will begin immediately.
  • In light of the tragic circumstances at the Bronx fire, the Department is reviewing the feasibility of providing strong, lightweight ropes to every firefighter. Personal ropes had been issued in the past, but were taken out of use in 2000 due to several issues including the weight, bulkiness and maintenance of the ropes. (There were several Life Saving Ropes on the roof of the Bronx fire, and one firefighter descended one of those ropes in an attempt to rescue the trapped firefighters, but by the time he got into position it was too late.)
  • Safety will also be conducting tests of the fire apparatus (Engine 42) used to supply hoselines operating at the Bronx fire. It has been determined that there was a loss of water in one of the hoselines being operated at the fire, and it is believed this loss of water may have contributed to an escalation of fire conditions including extension of the fire from the 3rd to the 4th floors, trapping firefighters.

Contact: Francis X. Gribbon / David Billig (FDNY) (718) 999-2056

http://www.nyc.gov/fdny

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