Once again, it would appear that Commissioner Scoppetta should be on the hot seat for how and why Department recommendations for inspections were not carried out and the fire plan was not followed.
Embattled Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said shortly after the inferno that the department had no pre-blaze plan when commanders sent more than 100 Bravest into the burning, toxic, vacant building being torn down near Ground Zero.Two firefighters were killed when they ran out of air and the fire went to seven alarms because of the difficulty in putting water on the fire. Both were buried last week, but the questions linger over how and why the Department ceased inspections in the building.
But what Scoppetta didn't mention was that more than 30 months before the fatal Aug. 18 fire, a high-ranking department official offered a step-by-step blueprint for fighting a fire in the cursed building - and even recommended a strict timetable for regular inspections.
First, "a ladder company officer and two members should leave the basement area and use the stairwell or elevator to travel to a floor below the location," Battalion Chief William Siegel wrote in a March 2005 memo to Division 1 Commander Richard Fuerch.
"The ladder company officer should conduct a search and evaluate what fire department units will be required."
That did not happen. Instead, dozens of firefighters lugging heavy equipment and hoses made their way up into the smoky maze of a building, only to discover they had no water to extinguish the fire.
While the building had been inspected in 2005 by Battalion Chief Siegel and found to be in working order, he also noted the additional fire load represented by the heavy usage of plywood in the decontamination process. Questions over contamination appears to have played a role in why the Department stopped inspecting the building, but I wonder why no one followed the Chief's recommendation to have firefighters wear respirators while conducting their inspections to insure that the building's sprinklers and standpipes were operable.
Separately, questions continue to swirl around Bovis Lend Lease and its subcontractor, John Galt Co., on how they were conducting the deconstruction. One woman says that she quit because she wanted to use protective gear while working on the building:
"They told us they got rid of the asbestos, but as I'm digging, I'm thinking, 'How did they magically get rid of the asbestos, but still leave all this healthy dirt behind?'" said Rocos, 57, a tough-talking certified asbestos handler with haz-mat training.Indeed.
After lunch the first day, Rocos came back to work wearing an asbestos mask. She said her Bovis Lend Lease supervisor was furious.
"He yelled, 'Helen! Take that mask off your face! You are spooking everybody, spooking the people from the medical examiner's office!'" Rocos recalled.
Staff from the medical examiner's office was overseeing the bone search as TV helicopters circled overhead filming the dust plumes.
"I said, 'No!' I said I doubted they could clean the asbestos on the roof and leave all this other dirt untouched. You had people picking through the dirt for bones, then getting up and eating a Dunkin' Donut, licking their fingers," she said. "It was insane."
At the same time, Fiterman Hall is scheduled to begin deconstruction this month. The building is to be decontaminated and demolished by PAL Environmental Safety Corp. of Long Island City. The company entered into contracts with the Dormitory Authority of NYS on behalf of CUNY. The demolition work will cost $187.5 million.
Pei Cobb Fried and Partners of New York City is designing the new Fiterman Hall, and renderings can be found here.
It's been reported before that there was a paucity of bidders in the demolition work for Deutsche Bank, and that pool will continue to shrink for purposes of letting a contract to finish the demolition. Indeed, the lack of bidders was how John Galt got the job via Bovis in the first place.
Did PAL pass on the work because of the size/scale of the building or were there other issues at play.
Three officers have been relieved of their commands as a result of the preliminary investigation:
Mayor Bloomberg and the fire commissioner laid part of the blame on three officers who were responsible for overseeing the safety of the building and devising plans to fight any potential fires that consumed it. One of the men was Deputy Chief Richard Fuerch, who oversaw all fire operations south of 14th Street and had reportedly received a memo two years ago that included a recommendation that only one officer and two firefighters should initially be sent into the Deutsche Bank building if a fire broke out. Instead, on Aug. 18, more than 100 firefighters were sent into the building.This is just the tip of the iceberg, as other officers are likely to be implicated. I also think that Commissioner Scoppetta needs to be held accountable as well for failing the rank and file.
The other two men who were accused of lapses are Battalion Chief John McDonald, who was responsible for conducting inspections at the building, and Capt. Peter Bosco of Engine Company 10, who oversaw the engine companies. All of the men were relieved of their commands and reassigned to the department’s headquarters. None of them were at the scene of the fire on Aug. 18.