A sickened New York mourns the deaths of at least 19 Bronxites, including nine children, from an apartment fire that poured smoke throughout a Fordham Heights high-rise. While the city digests the magnitude of the tragedy and speedily aids those whose lives are suddenly torn apart, it must work hard to fully understand what if anything might have prevented a loss of life on this scale.
An electric space heater caught fire in a duplex apartment spanning the second and third floors of the 19-story building. When the occupants fled, the smoke followed them through the open door. Firefighters who rushed to the scene found victims on every floor.
“We’ve stressed this over and over,” said Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro, “the door to that apartment was left open causing the fire to spread and the smoke to spread.” Let every New Yorker absorb that message: Only by closing doors can the smoke be contained and the fire be deprived of oxygen.
Every potentially life-saving lesson must be learned and acted upon as soon as humanly possible. FDNY and city officials must reeducate the public on the proper and improper use of space heaters, as the devices have long been known to create serious fire risk when not carefully monitored. Investigators must determine whether any other factors contributed to the carnage. The Bronx building has multiple units converted into duplexes, with many spaces hard to reach for firefighters. It was built, says the fire union president, “under federal guidelines way back when, so it’s not up to New York City fire codes.”
We must also pause to honor the 200 firefighters and emergency medical responders who rushed to the scene and raced throughout the building, rescuing more than 40 people who surely would have perished. Many of the rescuers pressed on after their air tanks were depleted.
The worst fire in more than three decades leaves families in ruins and a city in deep distress. Mourn the dead. Help the living. Hail the heroes. Learn the lessons.