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Investigation into high-rise fire safety measures

Jim Hoffer has the investigation.
January 7, 2014 3:28:15 PM PST
An Eyewitness News investigation is raising some disturbing questions about fire safety in New York City high-rise buildings.

Why aren't older residential buildings held to the same safety standards as commercial buildings?

Eyewitness News looked at what happened during that fatal high-rise fire in Manhattan on Sunday.

Statistics show there are far more deaths in residential high-rises than in commercial.

Yet, in a city with more high-rise apartments than nearly anywhere on earth, two key fire protections are not required in most of them.

December 1998, a fire in the high-rise apartment of Macaulay Culkin's family ended with four people dead in a stairwell. That pushed City Council to require all new residential high-rises to have sprinklers. But that leaves the vast majority of apartment buildings built before 1999 without them, including the Standard site of Sunday's fatal fire.

"You and I would not be having this interview if that building was sprinkled, it would have gone off and it would have put the fire out and that would have been the end of it," said Glenn Corbett, a Fire Safety Expert.

But there's another less costly measure that fire experts say could have made a big difference in Sunday's fire.

"That communication system, we have it in office buildings, we have it in hotels," said Vincent Dunn, Retired FNDY Deputy Fire Chief.

We do not have it in hundreds of high-rise apartments built before 2008. A public address system, says Retired Deputy Fire Chief Vincent Dunn, would allow an incident commander to quickly communicate with people in their apartments during a fire to tell them what to do, such as don't flee.

"Without the information, it's more likely people make a mistake, leave the apartment, and die in hallway and stairways," Dunn said.

That's what happened on Sunday and in 1998, and will happen again say fire safety experts unless public address systems are also required in older high-rises.

"As an incident commander I've seen the importance of a communication system, the need to give the people instructions during the time of a fire," Dunn said.

"Perhaps this would have played a role in this recent fire on 43rd Street," Corbett said.

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