Reassigning fire inspectors to COVID task force compromised safety, union says

The apartment building fire in the Bronx where 17 people were killed in January, including eight children, was scheduled for a fire safety inspection about a year before the fire. But that inspection never happened because about 90 fire inspectors had been reassigned to the city's COVID task force for about a year and a half, according to the union that represents the inspectors.

"There could've been less damages in regards to death had the building been inspected by our fire inspectors," FDNY EMS Union Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay said. 

Union Vice President Michael Greco added, "Their job, instead of checking buildings, was to make sure that a restaurant was complying with the vaccine mandate."

Deputy Chief Inspector Michael Reardon said that during the pandemic, inspectors weren't able to carry out all their inspections, such as "testing fire protection systems such as sprinkler systems, standpipes systems."

That information shocked and alarmed the City Council's Committee on Fire and Emergency Management during a zoom hearing last week. Queens Councilman Robert Holden called it "outrageous."

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Council Member Joann Ariola, the chair of the committee, said that was "unconscionable."

After the Bronx fire, the FDNY said the smoke quickly spread throughout the apartment building because several doors, including stairwell doors, malfunctioned and did not self-close. 

The union president said he believes more tenants could've been saved if the building had been inspected when it was scheduled.

"While they're doing their standpipe inspection, they would've noticed that the hallway doors are not closing by themselves as they are supposed to," Barzilay said, "and they would've issued citations and an order to correct it immediately."

However, the FDNY told Fox 5 News that fire inspectors are not required to check doors to see if they are properly working. So even if inspectors had been to the building a year before the fire, that is no guarantee the malfunctioning doors would've been identified.

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