Law Requiring Automatic Door Closing Couldn’t Prevent Bronx Fire Deaths | Univision 41 New York WXTV

This article was originally posted on January 10, 2022 by THE CITY. Subscribe here to receive the latest stories from THE CITY every morning.

In 2018, a year after a residential building fire killed 12 people in his district, then-Bronx City Councilmember Ritchie Torres was among the legislators who pushed through a bill requiring all residential buildings would have self-closing doors by mid-2021.

Torres, now a congressman, announced Monday the creation of a federal, state, and local task force to examine fire safety standards in residential buildings – including enforcement of local law that mandates requires installation of fire doors. Automatic shutdown, which he advocated on Council – after a deadly fire killed 17 people at the Twin Parks building in Fordham Heights.

“We have to make sure the housing stock fits into the 21st century when it comes to fire safety, and the Bronx is no stranger to deadly fires,” Torres said, noting that the district has seen four of the fires. deadliest in New York City in the last 30 years.

A Twin Parks tenant reported last month that their self-closing front door would not close: Tenants in unit 6K filed a complaint with the city’s Housing Preservation and Development Department (HPD). ) on your doorstep on December 6.

And another tenant told THE CITY that his apartment had a door problem for years.

“That door has never closed on its own,” said Twin Parks tenant Yamina Rodriguez, who lived in unit 12J. “I’ve been living here since 2004 and I’ve always had to close that door by myself.” A spokesperson for the property owner, Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, said they had not received any reports of problems with that gate.

Kelly Magee, a spokeswoman for the entity that owns the building, said the problem reported on Dec. 6 was fixed within 24 hours. The city’s housing code website reports that inspectors contacted the tenant, who told them the problem was fixed.

On Monday, municipal authorities corrected their death toll from 19 to 17, confirming that they had originally been counted twice. But the magnitude of the catastrophe continues to make it the worst fire in New York City in three decades, whose victims include eight dead children and 32 other hospitalized tenants.

The city’s fire commissioner, Daniel Nigro, told a news conference Monday with Mayor Eric Adams that the front door of the third-floor apartment where the fire started “malfunctioned” and did not close.

“The door was not obstructed: The door, when it was fully open, was left fully open because it malfunctioned,” he said, noting that severe smoke inhalation caused most of the deaths and serious injuries.

Nigro added that another open door, from a staircase to a hallway, spread the smoke: “the 15th floor became quite unsustainable.”

The 2018 municipal law requiring self-closing doors was based on an existing state statute that had a lesser penalty for violations.

That law amended the city’s housing code to require all property owners with three or more apartments to install and maintain self-closing doors or add devices to existing doors to accomplish this task for all doors that provide access to the buildings. interior hallways or stairs.

Councilman Joseph Borelli (R-Staten Island) sponsored the legislation in 2018 after a series of deadly fires in the Bronx that caused 15 deaths and 29 injuries.

Borelli did not respond to multiple phone calls from THE CITY seeking comment.

Before the new law, a door that would not lock was a “dangerous” class B violation with lesser penalties. The new law toughens the punishment: homeowners will now receive an “immediately dangerous” class C offense – the most serious – and will be required to bring it to order within 21 days.

Under the old law, HPD issued 22,000 citations for this violation in the year ending July 2021, and 18,000 were closed as corrected. The department said Monday that following the new law, the checklist for home inspectors now includes self-closing doors as an item that must be checked during inspections.

HPD said that in Twin Parks, the most recent self-closing door violations were issued in 2017 and then another in 2019. Both citations were re-inspected and observed for correction in August 2020, they said.

“Self-closing doors are essential to fire safety, so HPD proactively checks to ensure compliance in every apartment it inspects, regardless of the initial complaint,” said HPD spokesman Anthony Proia.

“Yesterday’s fire was a devastating tragedy, and our hearts go out to all families affected by the worst kind of loss. We urge residents to report malfunctioning doors to homeowners or call 311 if problems are not resolved. Correct and HPD will respond. “

When asked about the law he co-sponsored, Torres said Monday: “The law is only as good as its enforcement. No matter what law we have, we are going to have to make sure we have enough building inspectors and fire inspectors and inspectors. to hold homeowners accountable. We need rigorous enforcement of the codes. ”

Torres added that the task force, which he announced with Bronx County President Vanessa Gibson and Councilors Oswald Feliz (D-Bronx) and Pierina Sánchez (D-Bronx), will also investigate furnace manufacturing standards. electrical appliances, as well as sprinklers and smoke alarm systems.

Heating problems

Several tenants who have been in the property for years spoke to THE CITY on Sunday and Monday and said that for years the Twin Parks building has had problems with heating and fire safety.

Rodríguez, 52, said she and her daughters often turned to the use of heaters because the heat in the building was “inconsistent,” she said in Spanish.

And Miguel Henríquez, 67, told THE CITY on Sunday that “no one” in the building “paid attention” to the building’s fire alarms because they went off at all hours of the day.

The state agency Homes & Community Renewal (HCR) oversees the building, ensuring that it meets health and safety standards. On Monday, spokesperson Brian Butry responded by email to THE CITY:

“HCR is conducting an internal review of the records related to this building. We will release any relevant information as soon as it is determined that it does not interfere with the ongoing FDNY investigation. HCR’s immediate focus has been on health and safety. residents and help them find stable housing while they have been displaced. “

On Monday, the owners said there were no active violations for problems with the self-closing doors, but acknowledged that on July 27, maintenance personnel had to repair the lock on one of the doors at the entrance of the apartment where the operation began. fire, and verified that the automatic closing mechanism was working properly.

The building was constructed in 1972 under the Mitchell-Lama state affordable housing program and was acquired in January 2020 by a joint venture that includes Rick Gropper, a member of the Adams transition committee, and Andrew Moelis, the developer’s son. for-profit affordable housing Ron Moelis.

The sprinklers are installed only in the basement compaction room and in the laundry room, circumstances that are allowed by the city’s housing code because their ceilings and floors are poured concrete and their fire doors are sufficient for the building to be qualified. as “not combustible,” said a spokesman for the owner.

The magnitude of the destruction caused by the fire is vast. Of the 120 units, HPD has issued eviction orders that include 27 apartments with five pending inspections, building records show.

Gambian and Dominican communities are devastated

The aftermath of the fire devastated the area’s Gambian and Dominican communities, from which many Twin Parks residents hail.

Dawda Docka Fadera, the Gambian ambassador to the United States, told a news conference with Adams on Monday that most of the 17 victims had roots in the West African country. A representative of the Consulate General of the Dominican Republic also attended.

“Our country is currently in a state of shock,” Fadera said.

A fundraiser organized by the Gambian Youth Organization (GYO), a 20-year-old community group based just steps from Twin Parks, had raised more than half a million dollars in direct aid for victims of the fire just 24 hours after the disaster.

Momodou Sawaneh, founder of the organization, said Monday afternoon that “100%” of the funds would go directly to the victims: “cash payments, transportation, funeral expenses. The only thing we can guarantee is that the funds will go to go to the people who deserve it. “

Shawaneh added that the organization is in contact with the Adams and Gibson offices, who have offered to help distribute the funds.

Some 50 families are receiving services from the group, most of them from Latin America, he said. He said that only “about 10%” of the families who had come to the group were from the Gambia.

At GYO’s modest headquarters on East 181st Street, piles of coats, clothing, food and water bottles were growing faster than volunteers, some of them from the Bronx section of the Democratic Socialists of America, could supply. . Cars unloading supplies often clogged traffic on the narrow street that afternoon.

“This is not limited to one community, but to all communities,” he said. “We serve the whole world.”

THE CITY is an independent, non-profit news organization dedicated to producing robust reporting in the service of New Yorkers.

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