Saturday, August 18, 2007

Toxic Nightmare

A six alarm fire that broke out in the contaminated Deutsche Bank Building near Ground Zero has injured at least three firefighters.

The building, located at 130 Liberty Street, was in the process of being dismantled floor by floor because of contamination caused by the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Construction crews had dismantled 14 of the 40 floors in the building. Just this morning, the NY Times ran a story on the dismantling process, noting that this is the first time in American history that a building of this size has been dismantled rather than imploded.

The building is known to be highly contaminated with excessive levels of seven hazardous substances, including dioxin, lead and chromium. Imploding the building would have sent those hazardous substances into the air and contaminated the surrounding area. This is why the building is being dismantled rather than imploded.

Now those hazardous substances are contaminating the surrounding area anyway, as the smell of acrid, toxic smoke is wafting through the downturn New York air once again, just like on 9/11. Emergency crews are pushing on-lookers away from the fire as pieces of burning debris from the building have fallen to the street.

The firefighters and other emergency crews fighting this blaze are quite literally risking their lives to put it out.

I probably shouldn't write this, but I wonder when the first cancer death associated with this fire will occur?

It can't be safe to be anywhere near that fire, let alone fighting in from inside the building.

UPDATE: The fire broke out on the 20th floor around 3:30 PM. A reporter for 1010 WINS says the top four floors continue to burn as of 8:25 PM.

Wouldn't want top live downtown with that building having burned for 5+ hours and spewed god knows what toxic crap into the air.

The mayor is set to hold a press conference from NYU Medical Center where the injured fire fighters were taken.

I'm sure Moneybags will tell anybody who asks him about the safety of the air to stop whining.

After all, this is New York - you shouldn't expect safe air to breathe.

SECOND UPDATE: NY1 reports that two of the firefighters have died. The fire is now 7 alarms.

THIRD UPDATE: Moneybags confirms that 2 firefighters have died fighting the fire. He says the air is safe, downtown does not need a frozen zone around the building, and the building is not in danger of collapse. The fire commissioner says that the fire started on the 17th floor of the building.

1010 WINS reports that at one point the fire was on 10 floors of the remaining 26 floors of the building.

FOURTH UPDATE: There were rumors swirling that the building could collapse. NY 1 reported those rumors earlier, but the mayor shot them down, saying the Department of Buildings had tested the structure and found it safe.

So where did these rumors that the building could possibly collapse come from?

From some of the firemen who were fighting the fire:

About 50 people milled about on Greenwich Street watching flames shoot out of the top of the building, which is surrounded by scaffolding and covered with a black shroud.

Pieces of fiery debris rained down from the building onto the street and booms sounded periodically as glass shattered.

About 4:30 p.m., a firefighter approached a group of about two dozen people who were watching the scene unfold from across the street and yelled, "This building could collapse. If the building collapses you're all going to die. If the scaffolding collapses you're all going to die. You've got to get out of here."

But a New York police sergeant said "the building is in no danger of collapsing."

Most people, however, moved and found another spot from which to see the fire.

Clearly, emotions were running high for many of the firefighters. Not only were they once again responding to a fire in a building at Ground Zero, but that fire had already killed some firefighters. Still, the mayor says the bank building was never in danger of collapse.

I wish I didn't have such a difficult time believing anything Bloomberg says. But he's such a little liar and manipulator, I roll my eyes whenever he issues assurances about the quality of the air or the safety of the area around one of these disasters. I felt the same way after the midtown steam pipe explosion in July.

FIFTH UPDATE: The NY Times provides some details about the sights, smells and dangers at the scene:

“It was like another 9/11,” said Ed Mecropolis, 57, who lives in a red-brick building near the back of the former Deutsche Bank building and was prevented from going home by a police barricade. “I couldn’t go home to get my clothes for a week. All my credit cards, my checkbook, my cash, anything.”

Jillian Jaques, who lives in the same building as Mr. Mecropolis at 109 Washington, stood with him at the corner of Washington and Rector streets. Tourists snapped photos as they worried about their neighbors’ dogs and wondered where they would stay the night. “With this going on,” she added, “we can’t stick around.” Ms. Jaques said she was heading to the Jersey Shore for the night.

The abandoned building, shrouded in a grim black fabric netting, has been more than an eyesore to its neighbors. Residents expressed concern about the building immediately after the attack and in the ensuing years as it was being dismantled. The building, laden with asbestos, was heavily damaged in the terror attack.

The fire yesterday seemed to only worsen its stigma.

“I used to work in that building and I’ll tell you, that building is bad luck,” said Sanjay Deepti, 32, who lives in Battery Park City. “It should have been torn down long ago. It’s jinxed.”

Michael K. Williams, 28, a publicist who rents a one-bedroom apartment at 90 West St., an apartment building overlooking ground zero about one block away from the Deutsche Bank building, said he was not in the least surprised by the fire.

“That whole building is such as disaster,” he said. “It’s riddled with problems.”

Mr. Williams said he is even more concerned after the fire about breathing in asbestos emanating from the building. “You could smell it,” he said. “I don’t want to breathe that stuff.”

By 6 p.m., Mr. Mecropolis, who lives on Washington Street, was let back inside his bulding to get some belongings and he decided not to come back out.

He said he headed to the roof of the building, joining his neighbors to watch the abandoned building burn. He heard a loud boom, and he said he felt his throat get very dry. He thought there was some residue of asbestos in the air.

“The smell and the taste went from campfire to dramatically chemical,” he said. “My throat was dry and irritated.”

Not good.

SIXTH UPDATE: WCBS reported at 11:03 PM that the fire at the Deutsche Bank building is now under control.

SEVENTH UPDATE: The firefighters who died while fighting the Deutsche Bank building fire have been identified:

One of the firefighters killed was identified as Joseph Graffagnino, 34, of the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn. A firefighter for eight years, he was a member of Ladder 5. The other firefighter was identified as 23-year veteran Robert Beddia, also a member of Ladder 5.

The NY Times explores how it those fire fighters may have died:

The Fire Department’s emergency air packs are meant to provide firefighters with roughly 40 minutes of vital oxygen. But there is a catch: the harder a fighter has to breathe, the more quickly the oxygen runs out.

That, Fire Department officials said last night, was probably what helped doom Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia on the 14th floor of the Deutsche Bank building at ground zero.

The two firefighters, assigned to Engine 24, had made their way within striking distance of the fire that broke out around 3 p.m. yesterday.

But, trying to navigate through a maze of construction equipment, scaffolding and other impediments posed by a skyscraper in the process of being demolished, the firefighters appear to have become confused, perhaps even trapped, said fire officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Of course, firefighters are used to working in unfamiliar situations. But the Deutsche Bank building, fire officials suggested, presented its own bewildering array of conditions. Some rooms were sealed, perhaps as part of the asbestos removal under way. Lighting might have been miserable, even in midafternoon.

For the two firefighters, misfortune would only be compounded.

At least one of the building’s standpipes, conduits for water that run like a spine through the building, was not working. Firefighters had to improvise a way to get water on the growing blaze, an effort that required time.

Time the two firefighters were running out of.

Fire officials last night said that the two firefighters — taxed by the climb up the 14 floors and perhaps unable to find a clear way to retreat — likely expended their supply of oxygen in as little as 25 minutes.

The growing smoke soon became lethal. City officials said both firefighters were overcome by carbon monoxide, and their hearts soon became casualties.

Sigh - truly New York's bravest.

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