FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 27, 2007
MAYOR BLOOMBERG DELIVERS UPDATE ON CITY RESPONSE TO FIRE AT 130 LIBERTY STREET
The following is the prepared text of Mayor Bloomberg’s briefing. Please check against delivery.
"Good afternoon. Commissioner Nick Scoppetta, FDNY Chief of Department Sal Cassano, and Lou Garcia, the FDNY's Chief Fire Marshal, have joined me today to discuss last week's fire at the Deutsche Bank building. This City has been working around the clock to respond to this terrible tragedy, in which two of our Bravest lost their lives.
"That response has many different facets: the Office of Emergency Management, the Fire Department, the Buildings Department, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Police Department, among others, have had key roles in responding to and mitigating the effects of the fire. This has included in-depth air testing, coordinating repair work on the scaffolding, clearing broken glass, and making other necessary repairs to the building.
"We have also begun to develop the necessary protocols that will govern how decontamination and deconstruction will proceed at the Deutsche Bank site which balances the two public safety priorities: the safety of first responders, and the containment of any environmental hazards at the site.
"We must ensure that whatever measures are taken to contain and abate contaminated areas don't create conditions which undermine the Fire Department's ability to operate and needlessly add to the risks Firefighters already face. That work, which will be done in partnership with the State and Federal governments, is critically important, as we look to continue the deconstruction of this building. It will also be a template for how we will address other buildings in the same category as 130 Liberty Street, such as Fitterman Hall and 130 Cedar Street.
"As we are all painfully aware, we buried two firefighters last week. They were brave men, who served this city with honor and distinction. They took risks in their line of work. Everyone understands that. But we have an obligation to them to reduce those risks wherever possible.
"As a city, we failed to do that. The failures have many owners. They are both in the private sector and the public sector. My job is to oversee this City government - so we have been focusing on the City agencies involved with these tragic events.
"I am not interested in finger-pointing. I simply want to fix what is broken. That's why we have spent a lot of time over the past 10 days trying to account for those failures, trying to determine what specifically the obligations of this government were ,and to take steps necessary to prevent these failures from occurring again.
"We have many questions. Unfortunately, we don't have all the answers - but we will not stop until we get them. And although I have been reluctant to discuss these investigations while they are in their relative infancy, I do think we have enough hard information to take preliminary actions and provide an additional update to the public today.
"Let's begin with the fire itself. Fire Marshals have tentatively identified the cause of the fire as careless smoking by workers on the 17th floor. Regarding the standpipe, Fire Marshals have given sections of the standpipe from the basement that were on either side of the missing sections to the FBI for analysis by metallurgists at their lab in Quantico, Virginia. Results are not expected for one to two weeks.
"They will be seeking to identify, if possible, approximately when these missing sections were separated or removed from the standpipe system. We have not been able to determine how the standpipe sections were removed and who, if anyone, was responsible for doing so.
"The Fire Department's Safety Command is continuing its investigation into the deaths of Firefighters Beddia and Graffagnino. The investigation is analyzing the Department's operational response to the fire, whether the correct procedures were followed, and if the right decisions were made. They have conducted more than 50 interviews and are transcribing audio transmissions of firefighter radio communications from the incident.
"I also want to note that describing the building as 'vacant,' isn't accurate. The building was undergoing demolition and 198 workers had been working at the building last Saturday. The job of firefighters is to protect life and property in this city - and that's exactly what they were doing when they went into the building. We can't let buildings burn out of control and shower dangerous debris on neighborhoods.
"Based on what we currently know, it appears that the Chiefs in command at the scene acted appropriately, considering what they knew at the time. But it's what they didn't know that contributed to the enormous difficulties they encountered - specifically, a broken standpipe… a non-functioning sprinkler system… and decontamination efforts which exacerbated the fire and caused unacceptably hazardous conditions. The broken standpipe made it very difficult for firefighters to put water on the fire until they improvised and hoisted hose lines from the street, costing them valuable time. High rise fires almost always burn up, not down, as this one did. We suspect that the effects of the negative air pressure system, put in place as part of the containment operation, pulled the fire down several floors quickly, putting the base of operations on the 14th floor at great risk. And clearly, sealing stairwells gave firefighters few escape routes.
"And this leads us to the toughest questions that we need to answer. Why didn't the FDNY know about all of the conditions in the building? Why were they going in blind for all intents and purposes? We have identified three main reasons for this - and they are simply not excusable. And for that, we will hold people accountable. First, Engine 10 had responsibility for inspecting the Deutsche Bank building, but stopped inspecting it in 2006. We have yet to determine why inspections abruptly stopped. Second, the Fire Department requires an inspection of the standpipe every 15 days when a building is being demolished. But that hadn't happened a single time since demolition began in March.
"Third, and finally, despite the hazards concerning this building which have been well publicized and documented, senior fire officers decided against creating a unique fire plan for the building. This is even more disturbing when you take into account that a Battalion Chief had recommended doing so three separate times to a Division Commander, who has the rank of a Deputy Chief.
"The Battalion Chief also recommended weekly inspections of the building so that the Department would be kept up to date about the changing conditions as the building underwent decontamination and demolition. The Battalion Chief's recommendations were not followed and we need to learn why. We also believe that fire officers at the Battalion Chief level were in the building when it was searched for human remains earlier this year. If they witnessed the conditions of the building and didn't do anything with that knowledge, then their judgment must be questioned as well.
"These apparent failures in oversight, judgment and responsibility may require disciplinary action. However, we need to proceed prudently as the Manhattan District Attorney has launched a criminal investigation of the fire and the State Attorney General is investigating as well. We are cooperating fully with those investigations and will take no steps that could interfere with them.
"Pending further developments in the investigations, the Fire Commissioner announced today that the three officers who may have failed to do their jobs will be relieved of their commands. They are the Captain of Engine 10, who was responsible for inspections… the Battalion Chief, who was responsible for supervising the house… and the Division Commander, who was responsible for ensuring that inspections were being done, and who - despite evidence of the need to the contrary - did not order the development of a pre-fire plan for the building.
"These actions are strictly preliminary and the Department is still considering disciplinary and other possible actions - both up and down the chain of command. Structurally, we need to also put in place mechanisms to ensure that necessary fire inspections of buildings in our city take place as required. Inspections are not up for debate; this is an area which has been given much attention over the years.
"As I noted earlier, Fire Department rules specifically require buildings under demolition to be inspected every 15 days. This is a case where the procedure and the reason for it were clear and it wasn't followed. That cannot happen. Commissioner Scoppetta will institute a program to ensure accountability throughout the Department to ensure that inspections for demolitions and other purposes are conducted. We need the same accountability measures for inspections which we have instituted for response times.
"Commissioner Scoppetta is also under-taking additional interim measures pending the outcome of the various investigations - including making sure that every building which requires a pre-fire plan has one. The Department of Buildings also needs to examine its procedures in light of these events. The Fire Department and Buildings Department are responsible for enforcing the Building Code - which applied to 130 Liberty Street - and we have learned that the Buildings Department had issued permits for demolition-related work in the basement of 130 Liberty Street.
"The Department had inspectors onsite during demolition, but it is not clear to what extent the basement was inspected, or whether the Department's inspection protocols are sufficient. I have asked Commissioner Patricia Lancaster to investigate these issues and report back to me within 30 days.
As part of this review I have asked for recommendations about any necessary changes to existing procedures or the building code to ensure that any lapses that may have occurred in this case do not happen again. The Department of Investigation will assist the Buildings Department through the agency's Inspector General's office.
"Other City agencies have a role to play going forward as we attempt to learn and apply the lessons from this tragedy. I am directing the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a protocol for informing the Fire Department when decontaminations are taking place which could impact the response to a fire. I also am ordering a property review of all buildings in the City that are owned by governmental entities to determine beyond any doubt which buildings need to adhere to the fire and building codes. We cannot afford any confusion as to what is required when public safety is at risk.
"Finally, I have a message to the private sector, to landlords and construction companies: you know what your obligations under the law are and you have a responsibility to follow them. Human life is at stake. We all need to hold up our end of the bargain. We have much more work to do here. Today's developments could wind up being the least of the actions we will take. But these are complex issues, and we must address them prudently and thoroughly to fix what was broken. On that note, I'd like to turn the floor over to Commissioner Scoppetta."
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958
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