A CLOSER LOOK AT THE SAFETY ISSUES IN THE 2007 DEUTSCHE BANK FIRE
After a 16 month long Grand Jury investigation conducted by Robert Morgenthau the then Manhattan District attorney, they told the public that the fire was an accident and in his indictments, he did not indict any city, state or federal official responsible for the safe demolition of the building (Steadman). This decision by high-level government officials did not auger well with many individuals and entities which prompted them to further investigate what transpired that led to the conflagration of the building. The fire department also impaneled a team to study any problems that might have contributed to the death of the two firefighters. The investigations unearthed evidence that suggested the fire was no accident. This paper reviews the Manhattan’s Deutsche Bank building under deconstruction fires with great emphasis on building code compliance deficiency, fire hazards of building demolition and the role of the fire department and building department in demolition fire safety.
The plan was so risky that not only the original contractor would rebid the project. The general contractor Bovis subcontracted the John Galt Company to do most of the bulk demolition. This company had no experience in handling such high-risk jobs and had received a negative report from the Department of the investigation but the LDMC gave them the approval to do the demolition (Steadman) An analysis of investigative reports on the Deutsche Bank Building demolition fire provides a mountain of evidence of negligence and violations. For starters, the contractors tearing down the building never had a formal demolition permit even though they were undertaking one of the most sophisticated dismantling of a skyscraper (Baker, 2008). The Building Department issued the demolition company Galt with a series of alteration Permits for each floor instead of a Demolition permit for the entire building.
Lack of sporadic enforcement of the rules prohibiting smoking in work areas contributed to the inferno. A Fatal Fire Report by the FDNY that was completed in August 2008 stated that “On August 18, 2007, 130 Liberty Street did not meet the NYC Building Code requirements from buildings undergoing alteration or demolition. Some provisions of the NYC Building Code not followed were: • “The sprinkler systems were out of service. • “The standpipe system was out of service. • “The means of egress were blocked. The illegal deconstruction of the staircase enclosures was the most critical failure in ensuring and maintaining the safety and protection of the workers in the building and the Firefighters who responded to this fatal fire. According to the report by the Safety team, the removal of the stairway enclosures contributed to the deaths of the two firefighters (Steadman).
In 2005 the Fire Department had participated in the draft of an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for the demolition in collaboration with the NYC Emergency Management office. The Fire Department clearly instructed and insisted that any fire in the Manhattan Deutsche Bank building during the deconstruction must be reported to the Fire Department immediately. However, this reprimand was not obeyed and over a period of five months ten fires occurred in the building but none was ever reported to the emergency response team (911) or to the Fire Department as warned. Overall, the New York City Fire Department and the Building Department all had legal obligations to ensure the safe deconstruction of the Manhattan Deutsche Bank building but in one way or the other, they failed in their mandate and this transpired to the death of two firefighters and injuries, to105 people.
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