THE DEUTSCHE BANK TRAGEDY
By Martin J. Steadman
The fatal tragedy of the Deutsche Bank building fire in New York City on August 18, 2007. Two firefighters perished in the inferno.
By Martin J. Steadman
This is the untold story of how some of the most powerful people in New York City escaped blame for the wrongful deaths of two firefighters in a toxic skyscraper on the edge of what once was the World Trade Center.
On August 18, 2007, a seven-alarm fire broke out in the Deutsche Bank building, which was under deconstruction, and killed firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino and injured 115 more.
Robert Morgenthau, the long-time Manhattan District Attorney, conducted a 16-month Grand Jury investigation that rivaled the fable of the elephant that gave birth to a mouse. When Morgenthau announced indictments in December, 2008, he said “everyone screwed up,” but he declined to indict any city, state or federal official sworn to bring the building down safely. Instead his Grand Jury returned felony indictments against three construction supervisors. Almost four years after the fatal fire, all three were found Not Guilty as charged.
By the time of the trial, Morgenthau had retired after 34 years of otherwise splendid service, and it was his successor, Cyrus Vance, who prosecuted the case that went nowhere with the judge and the jury. Morgenthau left Vance with a weak indictment, and Vance made little effort to bolster the prosecution.
How easy would it have been to do so? There exists a mountain of evidence that suggests that city, state and federal officials could have been indicted for at least gross negligence, criminal negligence and/or reckless endangerment in the deaths of the two firefighters. For openers, there was an anguished warning to the owners of the building, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), that the ongoing demolition was “a serious accident waiting to happen.”
That warning, from construction consultants charged with helping the LMDC to a safe and successful demolition, came on August 3, 2007, just 15 days before the fatal fire. But the warning was ignored; a five-month history of dreadful neglect in the building was perpetuated, and multiple serious violations were repeated after the warning. Just 15 days from that one last plea to bring the demolition under control, the “serious accident waiting to happen” did happen because arrogant public officials thought they could get away with deliberately sacrificing safety for speed in bringing the building to the ground.
That mountain of evidence is still there, most of it locked away in voluminous files in the District Attorney’s office and in Grand Jury minutes. But bits and pieces will always bubble up to the surface, and here is just some of what the public has not been told.
§ An urgent written warning to the LMDC 15 days before the fatal fire has never been made public. Until now.
§ A Fire Department Fatal Fire Report, detailing shocking illegalities at the Deutsche Bank Building, was ignored by the Office of the District Attorney; the Mayor’s Office, and by the reporters and editors of the New York City press corps. Until now.
§ Detailed 2005 memos from three veteran FDNY Chiefs that have never been made public outlined plans for ensuring the safe demolition of the Deutsche Bank Building as early as January, 2005. The suggested plans hit a stone wall at the highest levels of the Fire Department.
The deconstruction of the Deutsche Bank building began more than five years after it was heavily damaged when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed and tore a 15-floor gash in its side, leaving it a toxic hulk. Privately owned, it was purchased by New York State and turned over to the LMDC, a city/state creation charged with planning for a new beginning at the site of the terrorist attack.
After a series of fits and starts, demolition began on March 9, 2007. The original contractor, the Gilbane Building Company thought they were getting a relatively clean building.. But the LMDC brought in an environmental firm that found higher-than-expected levels of a series of toxins and the LMDC decided to rebid a contract that would do something never before attempted in New York City. The new General Contractor, Bovis Lend Lease, would conduct a simultaneous abatement and deconstruction program. While toxic abatement was occurring on one floor, acetylene torches would be cutting through steel and concrete several floors above.
No other contractors, including Gilbane, chose to bid on the contract.
The New York City Fire Department was never involved in the planning or execution of this unprecedented plan. I’ve spoken to scores of FDNY battalion chiefs and deputy chiefs and all say the Fire Department was not consulted, they were certain the FDNY would have had serious objections to the plan.
The John Galt Company, taken on by Bovis as its sub-contractor to do the bulk of the demolition, couldn’t pass scrutiny by the Mayor’s own Department of Investigation. Not only did John Galt have no experience to handle such a high-risk job, the company had unsavory connections with unsavory people known to law enforcement at several levels.
Stop right there, a prudent person might say. But no one in city or state government said stop right there. Despite a seriously negative Department of Investigation report on the Galt company, the LMDC approved them for the job.
When John Galt filed an Implementation Plan with the New York City Buildings Department, at least one critical city agency was excluded from the process. The Fire Department did not participate in the planning or the review of the Implementation Plan. That building had to come down by December 31, 2007 and if safety had to be sacrificed for speed, so be it. What no one in law enforcement was willing to do was a thorough investigation of who decided the Fire Department must disappear in the hope that nothing bad would happen and no one would ever know.
The building had to come down by December 31, 2007 because JP Morgan Chase Bank had an option on a new tower that would be constructed on that site, but the option expired on December 31, 2007 and JP Morgan was not inclined to suffer any further delays.
An October 3, 2007 New York Times story quoted former Chairman of the LMDC Kevin Rampe saying New York City had insisted that information about the building, including communications to the Fire Department, had to be routed through the Mayor’s Office. Did John Galt’s Implementation Plan go to the Mayor’s Office and not make it to the FDNY? Someone in a position of authority or influence should have asked, but did not. Exclude the FDNY from the dismantling of a Toxic Tower? Someone must explain.
Something equally strange happened as the job was about to begin. New York City’s Building Department rolled over and died when Galt applied for, and was issued a series of Alteration Permits for each floor, instead of a Demolition Permit for the entire building. The difference? By law, Demolition Permits had to be reported by the Buildings Department to the Fire Department. No such requirement applied to Alteration Permits. Who in the Buildings Department did what they knew to be so wrong? Who told the Buildings Department that under no circumstances should they notify the Fire Department the Deutsche Bank building was about to be completely demolished?
THE URGENT WARNING
Flash forward to August 3, 2007. The LMDC had thought it prudent to hire a giant engineering and construction firm, URS Corp., as its consultant on the project. Fifteen days before the fire that killed Graffagnino and Beddia, a thoroughly frustrated URS executive fired off an E-mail to a number of project managers and to the President of the LMDC, David Emil. His blunt assessment of a dire situation has never surfaced, until now. Here is just some of that memo from Jaime Daniels, in charge of the URS contingent at the site (it is in its pristine form, typos and grammatical errors and all):
“Attached is a draft letter as discussed at this mornings legal meeting that URS strongly suggests should be forwarded to Bovis under LMDC letterhead. Please feel free along with others to edit as you see fit.
“As you are aware, this site is a serious accident waiting to happen due to the lack of Bovis’ attention to general house-keeping, fire watch and overall management. The futile attempts of Bovis always trying to deflect responsibility for their actions is wearing rather thin. The fact that Bovis holds an $ 80 million dollar contract there and does not have anyone on staff to remove garbage or debris is appalling. In fact, the only way anything gets done as it relates to labor is when Bovis has to beg their sub John Galt to perform the work. If Galt does not feel it is their responsibility or is not in the ‘mood’, the work does not get done. URS has tried as an owners representative to persuade Bovis through the months to pay closer attention to these items. Unfortunately, URS is NOT the GC as you are aware and does not have the vehicle necessary to hire outside assistance to alleviate these concerns.
“The LMDC through their contract with the GC Bovis does have the authority to provide the additional services if the GC is not up to the performance of their contract. I know we have discussed that option many atime, but at this juncture of the project, I believe it is imperative that something be done to convince Bovis that this is of a serious nature and concern to the owner and others.
“URS suggests that Bovis be placed on a 1 day notice to commence performing and rectifying all the deficiencies. If Bovis tries to commence operations as stated above, we feel that the power of the contract as it relates to hiring outside services by the owner for labor be enforced. We also suggest that the enforcement of withholding payments be made so as to illustrate the seriousness of the owners concerns.”
Mr. Daniels attached a draft letter for the LMDC to sign and deliver to Bovis, but it is not known if that ever happened. What is known is that on August 18, just 15 days after the stern warning, a worker threw a lit cigarette into a pile of garbage or debris on the 17th floor. Smoking was prohibited in the work areas, but there was only sporadic enforcement of the rule. That uncollected pile of garbage or debris turned into a seven-alarm fatal fire. Bovis had not removed it, and apparently Galt was not in the mood to help out.
The August 3, 2007 memo from Mr. Daniels wasn’t the first time the LMDC got a written rocket from URS. In a warning dated June 19, 2007, and addressed to Dear Mr. Emil, the consultant went off on a four-page rant on its concerns about Bovis. “In the past month alone URS communicated 54 e-mails on safety observations that needed immediate attention by Bovis,” the memo said. The memo to the President of the LMDC also included this devastating comment:
“For nearly three years URS has made numerous recommendations to benefit the safety as well as progress of the project. Our earlier recommendation was to have a separate environmental abatement contract in order to eliminate the deconstruction activities overhead.”
So long before, at the project’s beginnings, someone stood up and told the LMDC they would be well advised to scrap a deeply flawed plan to unloose a battery of acetylene torches cutting through concrete and steel just a few floors above toxic abatement workers below.
The Fire Department would have almost certainly had a problem with simultaneous abatement and demolition, but the FDNY was never consulted. Numerous Chief Officers of the FDNY have told me they do not believe the Fire Department would have approved simultaneous abatement and deconstruction if the Department was consulted. Such a project in a skyscraper had never been attempted in New York City, and no one believes it will ever be attempted again. As for the Buildings Department, the State Labor Department, the Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), all of their employees in the building throughout the demolition, all of them knew nothing from nothing. Worst of all, the city’s Office of Emergency Management, headed by Joseph F. Bruno, finished its role in developing an Emergency Action Plan in September 2005 and vanished from the scene, never to be heard from again.
THE FATAL FIRE REPORT— A PACKAGE OF DYNAMITE
There will be more here about the astonishing government paralysis leading up to the start of demolition in March, 2007 and throughout the demolition until the fatal fire, but some things that occurred after the wrongful deaths of Graffagnino and Beddia might have produced a different judicial result if attention was paid to a carefully crafted Fatal Fire Report commissioned by the FDNY. It was completed in August, 2008, four months before Morgenthau wrapped up his indictments. Here are significant excerpts from the FDNY Fatal Fire Report that was ignored::
“On August 18, 2007, 130 Liberty Street did not meet the NYC Building Code requirements for 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 fire rated construction comprising the stairway enclosures was either compromised or completely removed at many locations.”
A demolition application for 130 Liberty Street was never filed and the New York City Department of Buildings never issued a demolition permit. A demolition permit for the building would have required a working standpipe system, sprinkler system, enclosed stairways, and unobstructed means of egress and fire guards. And a demolition permit, by law, required the Buildings Department to notify the Fire Department.
Someone should be made to answer for (a) why the Buildings Department deliberately failed to notify the FDNY, and (b) why Building Inspectors on the site every day neither saw, nor heard, nor spoke of these egregious violations that were impossible to overlook.
This account will return to the Fatal Fire Report, but not before it is emphasized, underlined and repeated that the New York City Fire Department handed the District Attorney a blueprint for the indictment of every public official who allowed that project to proceed in violation of numerous laws of New York City that govern demolition or alteration. The Fire Department’s Safety and Inspection Services Command gave the District Attorney a 176-page package of dynamite and delivered it four months before the Grand Jury wrapped up its work. Little of what was reported by the Safety Chiefs is reflected in the indictments and the trial.
THE FDNY SAFETY COMMAND’S CONCERNS
Not much was ever made about the fact that buildings under demolition or alteration must have working sprinkler systems. The City Hall Press Office and the FDNY Press Office did mention that fact casually, as if there was nothing wrong ---the sprinkler systems were destroyed when the South Tower of the World Trade Center crushed them, they said. Stuff happens, they said. Except that the Building Code demands that before a building is either demolished or altered, the sprinkler systems must be back in operation, just in case the sprinklers are needed to protect the workers in the building, and everyone living close by. Not to mention the safety of the firefighters who were dispatched to battle a raging fire in a toxic hulk made more dangerous with every passing day.
As for the standpipe system, it was reported to arriving firefighters that it was operational. It had been certified as operational every day for five months by Safety Coordinators working for Bovis, but it wasn’t in operation at any point in the demolition. Imagine that. A Big Lie every day. It had been out of service since before the demolition began. The standpipe in the basement had been severed and a 42 foot section of the pipe had been carted away. At no time during the demolition was the crippled system tested. Repeat, for every day of the five month-long demolition, the Site Safety Coordinator checked off the standpipe system as operational. And when New York City firefighters raced to the fire on August 18, they were told the standpipe system was operational by Bovis supervisors.
The result of all that gross negligence? It took 67 minutes to get water on a fire in a pile of garbage that grew to a seven-alarm fire that killed two firefighters and injured 115 more.
As for the means of egress being blocked, where were the Buildings Department inspectors who were there every day? Where was Bovis? Where was the John Galt Corporation? Where was the expensive consultant URS? Where was the State Labor Department? Where were the OSHA inspectors? We know where the Fire Department wasn’t. They were nowhere throughout the entire operation. Plywood slabs covered the stairwells at every other floor -- the even-numbered floors. The plywood traps were supposed to include a kick-out feature for easy removal, but that wasn’t done either. Those illegal plywood slabs were in plain sight in the middle of otherwise empty floors. When the fire occurred, the platforms were extremely difficult for firefighters to lift in the smoke, heat and dark and they blocked movement up and down the stairs that by law must be unobstructed.
A PRINCIPAL CAUSE OF THE FATALITIES
And that leaves the illegal destruction of the staircase enclosures -- likely the most critical failure to protect everyone working in the building and the firefighters who were sent into a deadly trap.
The Fatal Fire Report filed by the Safety Team nailed this egregious violation of the laws, but about all they added to emphasize the significance of the rampant destruction of at least 10 floors of fireproof refuge was this additional mention in the Report:
“The NYC Building Code requires stairway enclosures to remain intact. It requires these egress stairs to be fully enclosed with fire rated construction and equipped with fire-rated self-closing doors. On many of the floors within the fire area, the fire rated construction surrounding the required means of egress (the A and B stairways) had been either partially or completely removed. This allowed smoke and heat to enter the stairways preventing Firefighters from using these stairways as areas of refuge.”
A number of veteran chiefs, active and retired, told me that particular violation should have been driven home in the Safety Chiefs’ report as the single most deadly failure that led to the deaths of the two firefighters and the injuries to more than a hundred more. They suspect that the Safety Chiefs might have so reported, but their work was edited by city lawyers.
Firefighters Graffagnino and Beddia were struggling to operate the first hose line that made it up to the fire operations floors. They were both found unconscious on the 14th floor, where the stairway enclosure had been “compromised.” That was three floors below the fire, and 12 floors below the top floor. Stairway enclosures had been removed at every level between the 26th floor and the 15th floor, and the bottom half of the 14th floor stairway enclosure where the two firefighters died had also been removed.
Engine company Nozzle men and Control men use the stairway enclosures as their safe haven from fire and heat and smoke, and the place from which to attack the fire when the hose is charged. Not only were Beddia and Graffagnino blocked from exiting down to the 13th floor by hatches on illegal wooden slabs over their stairwell, the first four feet of their stairwell encasement had been illegally removed, and the stairway enclosures for at least 10 floors above them were also destroyed.
Other fire chiefs, active and retired, point to 25 large exhaust fans that were operating on the 13th to the 17th floors. The Fatal Fire Report noted that “there was no remote shut off for these exhaust fans.” The demolition workers simply ran from the fire on the 17th floor and left 25 giant fans running. Standard Operating Procedure in high rise fires is to set up operations several floors below the fire because fire and smoke rise. In this fire, 25 giant fans were driving fire and smoke down, down, down until fires broke out on numerous floors above and below where Beddia and Graffagnino were found unconscious.
There were piles of garbage and debris on the 14th and 15th floors. This debris was comprised of metal studs, ductwork, piping, conduit and other materials. And the Fatal Fire Report said “Access and egress was blocked by sealed wooden platforms on even numbered floors. As a result members on the 14th floor were prevented from dropping down to the safety of the 13th floor via the A and B stairways.” The Safety Chiefs Report added that “It was very difficult and time consuming to open the hatches on the 14th floor.” Nozzle Man Robert Beddia and Control Man Joseph Graffagnino had fires above them, fires below them, heat and smoke and blackness all around them. Sealed hatches blocked their descent to the safety of the 13th floor. Stairway enclosures that were illegally removed from the bottom half of the 14th floor, and every floor above.
Beddia and Graffagnino never had a chance.
So far no one in a position of authority or influence has bothered to act on these horrific violations of the laws on the books. But they did know all about them, thanks to the FDNY Fatal Fire Report. Those who had the obligation to enforce the laws that were violated did little or nothing about it.
THE LMDC EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN
When Mr. Daniels of URS wrote his urgent warning to the LMDC on August 3, 2007, it was probably prompted by a fire in the building that morning, caused by hot slag running down a steel column from the 28th floor to the 24th floor, where it ignited some garbage or debris that was left laying around by the abatement workers. A Stop Work order for all burning operations was then issued by a Buildings Department inspector when he discovered that the Fire Department permit for the acetylene torches had expired.
The slag fire, the Work Stoppage ordered by the Department of Buildings, and the E-mail from Mr. Daniels all occurred on the same day, a Friday. But Bovis and its sub-contractor, the John Galt Corporation, were back at work Monday, when the Fire Department renewed the burning permit, no questions asked.
Of all the mysteries surrounding the horrific fire is the central question of why veteran Commanders of the Fire Department accepted their exclusion from the planning and execution of the demolition of the Deutsche Bank building., even when they were jolted awake. One day in May, a steel pipe fell from an upper floor of the building and crashed through the roof of the firehouse across the street, hitting it like a 30-ton bomb. Alarms went off all over the Fire radio, and the Commissioner and half of his Command Staff raced across the Brooklyn Bridge with lights flashing and sirens wailing, to the quarters of Engine 10 and Ladder 10. What a catastrophe! Several firefighters were taken to the hospital and it was a miracle no one was killed.
A Stop Work Order was immediately issued to the contractors by the Buildings Department, and that Stop Work Order was in effect for two weeks, until it was lifted. Is anyone trying to tell us that the Fire Department never asked any questions about what was going on in that building for those two weeks? Is anyone trying to tell us that the Fire Department never asked any questions about the lack of a fire plan for the building, or a Fire Inspection Plan?
Early on, in 2005, the Fire Department participated in the first draft of an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for the demolition. As early as December, 2004, the city’s Office of Emergency Management was quarterbacking this comprehensive safety plan, and it was the Fire Department that insisted that any fire in the building must be reported to the Fire Department immediately. The EAP went through s series of drafts, but the admonition to notify the Fire Department in the event of a fire was a constant through every revision until the EAP was finalized on September 7, 2005.
The August 3, 2007 fire that triggered the outburst from URS was not called in to 911, and the FDNY was not sent to the scene. That August 3 fire was the seventh such fire that was not reported to 911. Sadly, there were two more such fires after the warning. They weren’t reported to the Fire Department either. On the day the “serious accident waiting to happen” did indeed happen, there was a 13-minute delay in calling 911. It was not called in by anyone working or supervising on the job. It was called in by someone in the neighborhood who saw fire and smoke on scaffolding on the side of the building.
Ten fires in the building over five months. None of them called in from the building to 911 and relayed to the FDNY. All of them in gross violation of the LMDC’s Emergency Action Plan.
THE STRAKOSH MEMO
Flash back now to January 30, 2005. His name is Battalion Chief Robert Strakosh, just one of thousands of special people who make the New York City Fire Department the best in the nation, and many believe the best in the world.
The first draft of the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) landed in Chief Strakosh’s lap, probably because it was a Toxic Tower and he worked in the HazMat Battalion. The construction company Gilbane had taken an initial crack at a draft of the plan, but a first-class public servant, MaryAnn Marrocolo, Director of Recovery and Mitigation at the city’s Office of Emergency Management, spotted a big fat No-No. Gilbane said it would handle small fires itself, and Marrocolo wrote she didn’t think that was a good idea. That first draft of the EAP was sent along to the FDNY, and went down the line from the Fire Commissioner to Battalion Chief Strakosh, and here is what he wrote on January 30, 2005:
“I liked the MaryAnn Marrocolo review of the plan. Apparently she spent a lot of time on review and picked up and highlighted a lot of small fine points that need to be addressed. Especially the one on Page 7, Sec. 7.1. Gilbane emergency coordinator should not be determining if the fire is manageable, he should be calling us immediately so as to avoid any type of delayed alarms. It will also give us a better idea of how the work is progressing. Lots of alarms may tip FDNY off as to poor adherence to this aggressively proposed EAP. I also liked MaryAnn’s comments as to additional copies of the EAP on page 1 section 3 including the FDNY. I think if and when the FDNY gets copies of the plan, we should ensure that copies are also distributed to Division 1 first due units for this area. I am sure Division 1 will address this.
“We should ensure Division 1 first due units have a scheduled walk through of the EAP and a good working knowledge of the site.”
None of that excellent advice ever reached Division 1 or any other FDNY field officer. No one in Division 1, Battalion 1, or Ladder Company 10 or Engine Company 10 ever saw a copy of the Emergency Action Plan in any of its drafts. All of the fire officers later held responsible for a safe demolition were never brought into the planning for the demolition. In fact, they were deliberately excluded.
There was more to the Strakosh memo, which was routed through Battalion Commander Robert Ingram and Staff Chief John Norman, who was the head of the Special Operations Command. Chief Ingram echoed Strakosh’s recommendations and offered six bullet points in support. The first bullet point said, “Larger distribution of the EAP within the FDNY.” The triple header package from three veteran Chief Officers was sent up the chain of command, but it never came back down.
The one thing we can say for certain is that the FDNY Deputy Chiefs in Division 1, covering all of downtown Manhattan, NEVER KNEW OF THESE MEMOS; NEVER GOT A COPY OF THE EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN IN ANY OF ITS DRAFTS, AND WERE NEVER BROUGHT INTO PLANNING FOR THE DEMOLITION OR THE INSPECTION OF THAT TOXIC BUILDING. In the wake of the deaths of Graffagnino and Beddia, FDNY headquarters was forced to admit it didn’t have a plan to fight a fire in a toxic building, and it didn’t have a plan to inspect the building under demolition either.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG AND THE SCAPEGOATS
When the accident that was waiting to happen killed two firefighters, the Mayor of New York City went for the throats of three field officers, with a vengeance.
On August 28, 2007, just 10 days after the fatal fire and while the District Attorney had barely begun his investigation, Bloomberg called a news conference in City Hall and announced that three field officers had been relieved of their commands because they failed to follow a rule in the Fire Manuel that buildings under demolition must be inspected at least once every 15 days.
The newspapers, radio and TV News did the rest. Screaming headlines blamed the three field officers for the deaths of the two firefighters. The Daily News editorial writer urged the Mayor to fire them. Their careers were destroyed, and all three are now retired.
The Mayor failed to mention that immediately following the 15-day inspection rule in the Fire Manual was another section requiring that the Bureau of Fire Prevention must notify the Division commander whenever a demolition was about to commence. But that notification never happened.. The Mayor had his scapegoats, and there would be no attempt by his administration to inquire any further. As for the reporters and editors who helped the Mayor rush to judgment, they weren’t interested in asking any questions either.
Let’s stay with that outrage for another moment. The New York City Fire Department failed to construct a plan to fight a fire in the building if one occurred, and they didn’t design a fire inspection plan for a toxic building before or during the demolition either. Throughout the five months of demolition leading up to the fatal fire, no one from the FDNY set foot in that building. And no orders emanated from FDNY Headquarters to ensure a presence in the project.
Repeat. On January 30, 2005, Battalion Chief Strakosh wrote, “I think if and when the FDNY gets copies of the plan, we should ensure that copies are also distributed to Division 1 first due units for this area. I am sure Div 1 will address this.”
I’ve spoken to every one of the Deputy Chiefs assigned to Division 1, all of whom ultimately suffered disciplinary punishment for failure to inspect the building every 15 days.. All said they never saw a copy of the Emergency Action Plan in any of its stages, including the final draft dated September 7, 2005. None of them were notified by anyone in FDNY headquarters that they were expected to send their members into a notoriously toxic building on 15-day inspections without training or proper safety equipment.
One Deputy Chief told me, “I never saw a scrap of paper from Headquarters, and I never got a phone call either.”
It is important to note here that the Fatal Fire Report by a team of FDNY investigators did point to that section of the Fire Department Manual that required notice to the Division Commander. At the bottom of page 79 of a 176-page report, the investigators wrote the following, with italics and capital letters and bold face portions theirs:
“Note: Section 5.8.2 of the Fire Prevention Manual states, “Notice of demolition operations about to commence shall be forwarded by the Bureau of Fire Prevention on Form A-102 to Divisions and District Offices.” It is not known why this section of the Fire Prevention Manual was not being complied with. (THE INVESTIGATION TEAM DID NOT INVESTIGATE THE REASON WHY THIS WAS NOT BEING COMPLIED WITH DUE TO THE ONGOING INVESTIGATION BY THE MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE).”
The Fire Department kicked the can to the Office of the District Attorney, where it died. The District Attorney never demanded answers; the Mayor’s Office didn’t inquire further, and Fire Department headquarters acted as though their Safety Chiefs never raised the question. Form A-102 never arrived at Division 1, and any mention of the failure to notify Division 1 would have torpedoed the Mayor’s plan to dump all the blame on the field officers.
It wasn’t just failures by the FDNY. According to District Attorney Morgenthau, a slew of Bloomberg’s agencies failed in their duties---Buildings, Fire, Environmental Protection and Emergency Management were all in a state of paralysis. In New York City, the buck stops long before it reaches the Mayor’s desk.
THE SERIES OF UNREPORTED FIRES
More than two years before the demolition commenced, Batallion Chief Strakosh put the Fire Department and all the responsible parties in the loop on notice that every fire in the building had to be reported to the FDNY immediately. That was written on January 30, 2005. The Gospel according to the FDNY. Those words were central to the final draft of the Emergency Action Plan. But here is what actually happened during demolition:
THE THIRTEEN-MINUTE DELAY
What convinced the District Attorney to ignore that abominable record of gross negligence at the trial of the three construction supervisors? Building Inspectors observed, or were aware of these fires, but they also did not call 911. As for the LMDC, it was its own Emergency Action Plan that the agency repeatedly violated.
All of these witnesses to outrage after daily outrage were determined never to bring the Fire Department into the building.
When the 10th fire in the building broke out on August 18, 2007 and ultimately went to seven alarms, there was a 13-minute delay in notification to the Fire Department. The call to 911 came from a civilian who spotted fire in the scaffolding of the building. The Bovis and Galt workers by then had fled the scene without bothering to call the fire in to 911, and without bothering to shut down 25 giant fans, driving the fire and smoke down. Thirteen minutes can be an eternity in a fire A fire officer of one of the first arriving units took one look and called in a second alarm. It was an out-of-control fire before the first unit set foot in the burning building.
To this date, no city, state or federal official had been held accountable for the deaths of two firefighters, and the injuries to 115 more. No one working for General Contractor Bovis or sub-contractor John Galt has been convicted of any charges. Two firefighters died, and no one killed them. Another 115 firefighters and fire officers were injured. Stuff happens, the guilty say. Get over it, they say. We have to move on. We need to put things like this behind us. When a politician says we need to put these things behind us, it can only mean he (or she) has no alibi for what happened on their watch.
Across the face of the Criminal Courts Building at 100 Centre Street, carved in stone, are these words, “The True Administration of Justice is the Firmest Pillar of Good Government.”
Those who come and go in that Art Deco building, and those who are just passing by, take those words to heart. But all too often, the rich and the powerful are allowed to laugh at mere words carved in stone.