Investigating security door failure after fatal fire in New York City apartment block

Investigators are trying to figure out why security doors didn’t close when a massive fire broke out in a tall New York City building.

The problem allowed thick smoke to permeate through the tower and kill 17 people, including eight children, in the city’s deadliest fire in more than three decades.

Fire officials determined that an electric space heater ignited a 19-story building in the Bronx on Sunday.

The flames damaged only a small part of the building, but smoke billowed out the apartment’s open door and turned the stairs into a death trap.

To escape the fire, the only way out in a very tall building was the stairs.

City Fire Commissioner Daniel Negro said the front door to the apartment and a door on the 15th floor should have closed itself and blunted the spread of smoke, but the doors remained fully open.

It is not clear whether the doors failed mechanically or if they were manually disabled. Mr Negro said the apartment door was not obstructed.

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A volunteer makes a donation to the Gambian Youth Organization for those affected by the fire (AP)

Officials said heavy smoke prevented some residents from escaping and disabled others as they tried to escape.

Firefighters pulled the children out and gave them oxygen, and rescue efforts continued even after their air supply was exhausted.

Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College in New York City, said closed doors are key to preventing fires and smoke, especially in buildings that don’t have automatic sprinkler systems.

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The cause of the fire is being investigated (AP)

“It’s pretty remarkable how many deaths we can have here from the failure of a door, but that’s the reality of it,” said Mr. Corbett.

“That one door played a key role in spreading the fire and allowing smoke and heat to dissipate vertically through the building.”

Dozens of people were taken to hospital, with many in critical condition.

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Residents gather outside a building to collect their belongings in the Bronx borough of New York (AP)

New York Major Eric Adams called it an “unspeakable tragedy” at a news conference near the scene on Monday.

“This tragedy is not going to define us,” Mr. Adams said. “It’s going to show our resilience.”

The mayor on Sunday lowered the death toll from a preliminary report, saying that two fewer people had died than originally thought.

Mr Negro said patients were taken to seven hospitals and there was “a slight double count”.

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The death toll has been revised to 17 (AP)

City council member Oswald Feliz said children up to four years old were among the dead.

Mr Negro said an investigation was underway to determine how the fire spread and whether anything could have been done to prevent or stop the fire.

The building was equipped with self-closing doors and smoke alarms, but many residents said they initially ignored the alarms because they were so common in a 120-unit building.

Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, which owns the building, said it is cooperating fully with the fire department and the city and is working to assist residents.

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It is not clear whether the fire door has suffered a malfunction (AP).

“We are devastated by the unimaginable loss of life caused by this grave tragedy,” the statement said.

New York City has been slow to require sprinklers for older apartment buildings, passing legislation mandating them in high-rise office towers after 9/11, but in recent years stalling on a bill that would require that residential buildings Such measures would be required in

In 2018, a city legislator proposed requiring automatic fire sprinklers 40 feet or higher in residential buildings by the end of 2029, but the measure never passed, and the legislator recently left office.

Ronald Ciarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, said a sprinkler system installed to heat the apartment would have saved lives.

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Major Eric Adams of New York City (AP)

“Most likely it would have extinguished that fire or at least kept it in check and not produced the amount of toxic fumes,” he said, adding that firefighting groups have been lobbying for stricter sprinkler requirements for years. .

The building originally housed several families from The Gambia, West Africa.

Resident Karen DeJesus said she was used to hearing the fire alarm sound.

“It wasn’t until I actually saw smoke in the door, I realized it was a real fire, and I started yelling at people, ‘Help! Help! Help!'” he said.

Ms DeJesus, who lives in a two-floor apartment with her son and three-year-old granddaughter, immediately called family members and ran to put a towel under the door.

But before the 56-year-old resident could get the towels, smoke started coming down his stairs, so the trio ran to the back of the apartment.

“It was very scary,” she said. “Just the fact that we’re in a building that’s burning and you don’t know how you’re going to get out. You don’t know if the firefighters will get to you in time.”

Firefighters broke down his door and helped secure the three out of the window and down a ladder.

It was the deadliest fire in New York City since 1990, when a arson at the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx also killed 87 people.

Sunday’s fire came just days after a home fire in Philadelphia killed 12 people, including eight children.