Depending on whom you followed more closely, there were two accounts of the fire Saturday night that tore through a 50th-floor apartment in Trump Tower, President Trump’s namesake building on Fifth Avenue in New York.
The first narrative unfolded through official alerts and images from the New York Fire Department, which painted a picture of an extraordinarily challenging — and ultimately fatal — blaze to contain and extinguish.
The fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Saturday, officials said. Soon, flames could be seen making their way across the unit as dark plumes of smoke billowed upward, obstructing many of the floors above.
By the time firefighters arrived at the 50th floor of the building, they found “the apartment was entirely on fire,” New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Saturday.
Forcing their way into the unit, firefighters pulled out one person, unconscious and unresponsive, who had been trapped inside, Nigro added.
The man was taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said. He later died.
In all, six firefighters — of the roughly 200 or so who had responded — suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze, Nigro said.
#FDNY members remain on scene of a 4-alarm fire, 721 5th Ave in Manhattan. There is currently one serious injury to a civilian, and 3 non-life-threatening injuries to Firefighters, reported pic.twitter.com/c7qeOlDVcf
— FDNY (@FDNY) April 7, 2018
For the president, however, the fire seemed first a chance to boast of the construction quality of Trump Tower on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating with the public.
“Very confined (well built building),” Trump tweeted Saturday, about an hour after the fire broke out. “Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”
Fire at Trump Tower is out. Very confined (well built building). Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2018
Trump also declared that the fire had been extinguished — before it actually had been.
The fire was still not considered to be under control then because of smoke conditions above the 50th floor, Nigro said Saturday. It was brought under control shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, about an hour after Trump’s tweet, fire officials said.
“This was a very difficult fire. As you can imagine, the apartment is quite large; we are 50 stories up,” Nigro said. “The rest of the building had a considerable amount of smoke.”
Though Trump thanked the “firemen (and women)” who responded to the blaze, his tweet made no mention of those who had suffered injuries.
At the time, the resident who had been pulled from his burning Trump Tower apartment was listed in critical condition, and officials initially said four firefighters suffered minor injuries.
Officials later announced that the Trump Tower resident had died at Mount Sinai Hospital and identified him as 67-year-old Todd Brassner, who lived in unit 50C. They also revised the count of injured firefighters from four to six.
Nevertheless, Trump’s Saturday evening tweet has remained the only comment he has made regarding the fire in his building, where he keeps an office and a residence. The White House said Saturday that the first family was not in New York when the fire broke out.
On Sunday morning, Trump posted about a half-dozen tweets on a variety of subjects, including the “rigged” investigation into Hillary Clinton and how he and Chinese President Xi Jinping would “always be friends, no matter what happens with our dispute on trade.” But he has not revisited the Trump Tower fire, even after news of Brassner’s death.
President Trump’s Twitter priorities this morning: 1) The “rigged” FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton. 2) WaPo’s “garbage” story about his chief of staff. 3) He and President Xi “will always be friends,” despite trade tensions. 4) Alleged chemical attack in Syria.
— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) April 8, 2018
Trump, who can be notoriously unfiltered on Twitter, has built a track record of uneven responses to high-profile tragedies. Often, he has rushed to weigh in on incidents of violence, even before all the facts have emerged. Other times, his protracted silence on an issue has been head-scratching, at best, such as with the serial bombings in Austin last month.
Officials said Sunday that Brassner’s cause of death was yet to be determined and that an investigation into the fire was ongoing.
After the fire, Trump’s former opposition to a law requiring sprinklers in residential high-rise buildings came under scrutiny. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Trump lobbied against a bill that would have required sprinklers to be installed in all residential buildings in New York, backing down only after existing buildings such as his own were allowed to be grandfathered in, the New York Daily News reported.
On Saturday, Nigro confirmed to reporters to that no sprinklers were in place in the upper residential floors of Trump Tower, where the fire broke out.
Several residents also spoke of the fear and chaos that erupted after they realized their building was on fire.
“It was a very horrible experience . . . there was no evacuation system in place . . . we were at a loss of what to do. I almost fainted. I thought we would die,” Lalitha Mason, who lives on the 36th floor of Trump Tower, told the New York Post. “My husband is disabled and we were helpless. All we could do is put wet towels under the door and pray.”