A COVID task force cancelled a fire inspection at Twins Park North West a year prior to fire, union president reveals

By Robbie Sequeira | March 15

This article was updated on March 15, 2:19 p.m. to include a statement from the FDNY.

Before the tragic Jan. 9 fire that ravaged the Twins Park North West high-rise and killed 17 in the Fordham Heights section, the complex was scheduled for a fire safety inspection — but it never happened.

Fire officials assigned to inspect the building were diverted to a COVID task force to ensure restaurants followed pandemic guidelines, revealed Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, at a hearing before the New York City Council Committee on Fire and Emergency Management last week.

Barzilay believes that inspectors would have flagged the malfunctioning doors — which caused the fire to spread quickly throughout the complex causing eight children and nine adults to die of smoke inhalation — for repairs.

A spokesperson for the FDNY said the inspection would have specifically looked at checking standpipes and not individual apartment doors, however. Additionally, the spokesperson said there were no operational issues at this fire that would be connected to a missed inspection.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 9 blaze, FDNY officials pointed to malfunctions in both a space heater and a faulty self-closing apartment door that caused the initial fire to break out on the building’s third floor.

According to Barzilay, who represents a union of EMTs and FDNY inspectors, a fire inspection to examine the high-rise’s standpipe system was supposed to happen a year prior to the borough’s deadliest fire since 1990. But instead, 90 out of the city’s 450 fire inspectors — including officials assigned to inspect the Fordham Heights complex — were reassigned to the COVID task force, which was implemented by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio.

‘That building was scheduled to be inspected, but because they were sent to a task force, that building was not inspected,” Barzilay told the City Council during his briefing.

Barzilay also revealed that a Brooklyn building that was the site of an explosion last month was also slated for inspections, but the inspectors assigned to it were diverted to enforce vaccine mandates at city restaurants. Those requirements were rolled back by Mayor Eric Adams on March 7.

In an interview with the Daily News, Barzilay placed the blame solely on the de Blasio administration, stating “I’m blaming the previous administration for not thinking it through.”

Joann Ariola, an Ozone Park councilmember, said that de Blasio’s decision to reassign inspectors to the taskforce, in lieu of inspections, is “unconscionable” and requested an investigation to the Department of Investigation and the Council’s oversight committee.

The fire, which residents and local officials have called “preventable” has led to a sweep of legal actions against the city and property managers.

Property owners Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, a consortium that includes Belveron Partners, the LIHC Investment Group and The Camber Property Group, are defendants in four lawsuits, including a $3 billion class action lawsuit.

Throughout its 123 building portfolio, Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC has a total of 11,801 residential units, but within just the last three years had received 2,468 heat and hot water complaints submitted to the city’s311 service, according to NYC-based tenant organizing service JustFix NYC.

Before the Jan. 9 fire, there were 18 open violations against the Twin Parks North West property, located at 333 E. 181 Street, with 174 total violations levied since the consortium took over in 2020, records filed with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development show.

Bronx Times reached out to a former member of the de Blasio administration for comment, and is awaiting a response.

For additional coverage on the devastating Twin Parks North West fire click here.