Deutsche Bank Fire Probe: Many Failures

The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 28, 2007; 5:16 AM

NEW YORK -- The city ordered fire inspectors to examine hundreds of buildings under construction or demolition after an investigation found numerous planning and safety failures at an abandoned ground zero skyscraper where two firefighters died.

Three senior fire officials said to be responsible for lapses at the former Deutsche Bank tower were also reassigned, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned Monday that more action could follow.

Officials said the fire appeared to have been started by a cigarette, likely from workers who were dismantling the skyscraper and cleaning it of toxic debris floor by floor. The building, which once stood 41 stories, was heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks.

When workers began taking it down earlier this year, the fire department failed to conduct the required regular inspections at the tower, Bloomberg said.

Had officials performed those checks, they might have seen conditions that contributed to the Aug. 18 fire, including a broken water supply system, a maze of sealed-off stairwells, combustible debris throughout the building and signs that workers regularly ignored the no-smoking rule on site.

Bloomberg said it was "not excusable" that the department failed to properly inspect the building, especially after repeated urging from at least one fire official who spotted numerous potential hazards in the skyscraper and sent memos about his concerns.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta ordered deputy chiefs to inspect "any large building" under construction or demolition in their divisions and to review firefighting plans at every building in their areas. The inspections would cover 420 structures citywide.

Bloomberg noted that the Manhattan district attorney and state attorney general are investigating.

"This is a case where the procedure and the reasons for it were clear, and it wasn't followed, and that cannot happen," he said.

The city has asked the FBI for help in determining how and when the building's water supply network, known as the standpipe, broke.

Fire marshals investigating the blaze found pieces of the standpipe unattached in the tower's basement, and the valve was discovered to have been turned off at some point. Portions of the pipe were sent to be analyzed by FBI metallurgists in Quantico, Va.

After the fire broke out on the 17th floor, more than 100 firefighters rushed into the building, including Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino, who died of cardiac arrest from smoke inhalation.

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© 2007 The Associated Press