New York Firefighters Could be in Danger From Fire Code Chaos

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Firefighters could be in danger at hundreds of state-owned buildings in the city that don’t follow FDNY fire codes, a task force report warns.

The task force, created after the Deutsche Bank fire tragedy, has found more than 600 state buildings where city rules don’t apply.

“It’s a riskier proposition (for) first responders,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn) who sponsored the bill to create the task force and is pushing for all city buildings to be covered by the same rules.

The loophole covers buildings that include hospitals, youth centers, jails and offices in all five boroughs — from the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan to SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn to City College — as well as state-owned buildings leased out to restaurants and stores.

A fire that claimed the lives of two firefighters burns in the former Deutsche Bank office building in New York on Saturday, Aug. 18, 2007. Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday defended the Fire Department’s decision to send dozens of firefighters into the blaze in the vacant tower which was being demolished at ground zero. A key part of the investigation into the Fire Department’s response will focus on the fact that the building’s water supply system was not operational.

The state has its own fire code, but the two sets of rules differ on key points like how explosives are handled, how to report the presence of hazardous materials and how standpipes and water sources inside buildings are set up.

The task force recommended reconciling some of the rules and mandating tougher fire inspections for state buildings. “Nonexistent or nonconforming systems impede the timeliness, effectiveness and safety” of firefighting and rescue operations, the report said.

Even small discrepancies could create fatal delays, said Joseph Graffagnino — whose son, Joseph Jr., was one of two firefighters killed in the 2007 blaze at the state-owned Deutsche Bank building — since firefighters rushing into burning buildings won’t know what to expect.

“The assumption is that it’s up to code, and it’s not. So when (firefighters) are looking for water stanchions that meet New York City code and they’re trying to hook up hoses to it, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “It just delays putting out the fire, which could get people killed.

“The Deutsche Bank building lacked a functioning standpipe when it caught fire, and it had not been inspected in five months, when it should have been inspected every 15 days.

“The State believes that both State and city codes provide an equivalent level of protection.  The State and New York City share a common goal to provide the highest level of safety for building occupants and emergency responders,” said New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control spokesman Bill Peat.

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