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Policy change after bodies found days after fire

September 30, 2013 2:57:14 PM PDT
There is new information about a fire in the Bronx in which three bodies were discovered a week after the fire.

The Eyewitness News Investigators were looking into why it took so long to find the bodies.

Now there is a change in policy.

The FDNY is not admitting that mistakes were made, but they are amending their search policy to ensure speedier demolition of vacant buildings after a fire.

When three bodies were discovered seven days after this Bronx fire, the FDNY insisted there was no indication squatters could have been inside.

But Eyewitness News obtained a critical information dispatch that went directly to the Battalion and Deputy Chiefs on the scene that morning.

It cautions responders that "squatters" could be inside.

Also, City Building's Department records show the FDNY knew that property had past squatter problems. And, people living nearby say it was common knowledge.

"They lived there; they came in day and night. It was their home," said Felix Santora, a resident.

Eyewitness News went to a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday to ask the Fire Commissioner why it took seven days to find the bodies, but he ducked our cameras so Eyewitness News asked the Chief of the Department.

"Here is the ticket to the fire chief and it says fairly clearly, 'use caution squatters and debris inside'. That was the ticket that went to those leading the firefighters," said Jim Hoffer, Eyewitness News investigative reporter.

"That's an advisory. That's not telling us that there are definitely squatters inside," said Edward Kilduff, Chief of the Department, FDNY.

"You had Department of Building complaints about there being squatters," Hoffer said.

"Okay, alright so," Kilduff said.

"So, why did firefighters leave the scene?" Hoffer asked.

"Firefighters left the scene because after we searched the perimeter of the building and gathered as much intelligence as we could, firefighters left the scene because we did not feel there was anybody inside," Kilduff said.

Fire experts Eyewitness News spoke to say the FDNY was correct to stop their interior search due to potential building collapse, but once the fire was out experts say they should have called in a crew to do a forensic demolition.

Ken Willet has 35 years of experience fighting fires.

"My experience has been those structures, we were able to go through in about a 24 to 36 hour period," said Ken Willet, of the National Fire Protection Association.

"And your experience is that firefighters remained on the scene during that search?" Hoffer asked.

"What I experienced is the fire department did not leave the scene until they were able to make a determination whether there was someone inside the building or not," Willet said.

Eyewitness News has since learned that the three people inside were alive at the time of the fire and died of smoke inhalation.

The FDNY says it has changed its policy, so that in the future, if there's a chance victims are inside a burned out vacant structure, the Department will work with the Buildings Department to speed up the forensic demolition and stay on the scene until it's determined whether anyone is inside.

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