Fire operations for structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and danger to operating personnel. This reality was clearly validated when; two FDNY firefighters died in the line-of-duty during a seven-alarm fire that tore through the abandoned Deutsche Bank skyscraper in lower Manhattan, next to ground zero in New York City on Saturday August 18, 2007.
The Deutsche Bank Building located at 130 Liberty Street adjacent to the quarters of FDNY Engine 10, Ladder 10, was once a 40-story high-rise structure that had been systematically reduced to 26-stories at the time of the fire. Significant building contamination from numerous toxic substances that included asbestos and lead resulting from the destruction of the World Trade Center during the September 11th attacks required the deliberate floor-by-floor dismantling effort as part of the deconstruction process that would ultimately remove the building from its present site.
The two FDNY firefighter fatalities were Fr. Joseph Graffagnino, an eight year veteran and Fr. Robert Beddia a twenty-three year veteran, both assigned to Engine 24 and Ladder 5 in SoHo. The seven alarm fire was being worked with a contingent of over 275 firefighters when the pair became trapped on the 14th floor of the building after being overcome by blinding concentrations of dense smoke after their air supply was depleted during the course of combat fire suppression operations.Post incident investigations, providing insights into fire department operations, physical building conditions, risk profiles, hazards and deficiencies.
The fact that the Deutsche Bank building was being dismantled floor by floor- that it was undergoing “Deconstruction” meant that the building was a primary target hazard containing significant operational vulnerabilities, hazards and dangers posing life threatening risk to unsuspecting firefighting personnel. The fact that this building was undergoing asbestos abatement further compounds the degree of risk present.
Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta today announced that two fire officers have been permanently relieved of their commands and reprimanded, and five chief officers have also received reprimands, in connection with their failure to insure required inspections were performed at 130 Liberty Street prior to the August 2007 fire that took the lives of two firefighters, Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino. All seven officers agreed to accept these penalties in lieu of formal charges and an administrative trial before the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).
Today’s announcement followed the release last week of a report by the City’s Department of Investigations (DOI) on the results of an investigation of the Fire and Buildings Departments’ actions leading up to the 130 Liberty Street fire. DOI’s administrative investigation began after a 16-month criminal investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau that resulted in indictments against the John Galt Corporation and three of its workers. No criminal charges were filed against any City employees.Once demolition of 130 Liberty Street began, Fire Department regulations required inspections of the building every 15 days. Fire officers in FDNY Division 1, Battalion 1, and Engine 10, who had responsibility for conducting inspections, failed to inspect 130 Liberty Street between the commencement of demolition in March 2007 and the fire on August 18.
Bottom line, buildings undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations can pose significant risk to suppression operations and lead to firefighter injuries and fatalities. This can not be stressed enough. The unique and dangerous elements confronting incident commanders, company officers and operating forces demands a clear understanding that fire suppression operations in buildings during construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and consequences, requires a methodical and conservative approach towards incident stabilization and mitigation.
You cannot implement conventional tactical operations in these structures. Doing so jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable to the safety and wellbeing of firefighters.
Pre-fire planning is a must, What is your department doing in the areas of pre-fire planning? Do you have effective procedures in place to address deconstruction and demolition projects and emergency response operations?
Check out Safety Considerations HERE
Power point program on Operational Safety and Awareness at Deonstruction and Demolition Sites, HERE