By MICHAEL GARTLAND | NEW YORK DAILY NEWS | March 9, 2022
A Bronx building that became a towering inferno in January, leaving 17 dead, was scheduled to be examined by an FDNY fire inspector several months beforehand — but it didn’t happen because the inspector was reassigned to conduct COVID restaurant inspections.
The troubling account came from Oren Barzilay, president of the union that represents paramedics and fire inspectors who testified Wednesday at a hearing held by the City Council’s Fire and Emergency Management Committee.
“That building was scheduled to be inspected, but because they were sent to a task force, that building was not inspected,” he testified.
“It’s terrible,” he told the Daily News after his testimony. “I’m not blaming Eric Adams. I’m blaming the previous administration for not thinking it through.”
The Jan. 9 blaze at Twin Parks North West in the Bronx killed 17 people and left dozens more injured. The fire was caused by a faulty space heater that burst into flames and made worse by malfunctioning doors that were designed to close on their own. Because the doors failed to shut, the toxic smoke spread quickly through the 19-story building.
The blaze was the deadliest in the city since the Happy Land night club fire killed 87 people in 1990.
Barzilay told the Daily News an inspector was assigned to Twin Parks about a year before the fire took place to examine the building’s stand pipe system, which would supply it with water in the event of a fire. Barzilay noted that while inspectors wouldn’t have focused on inspecting doors, any problems they saw would have been flagged and addressed.
“If they had noticed anything else, they would have addressed the issue,” he said.
Barzilay also noted a Brooklyn building that was the site of an explosion recently was also slated to be inspected before the incident, but was not because inspectors were diverted to enforce vaccine mandates at city restaurants. Mayor Adams rolled back those requirements, known as the Key2NYC, on Monday.
During testimony to the Council on Wednesday, Michael Reardon, the FDNY’s deputy chief inspector, noted that during the course of that initiative about 90 fire inspectors were diverted from their normal responsibilities to perform COVID-related duties, like inspecting restaurants to make sure they checked vaccination cards and distributing masks. Overall, there are 450 fire inspectors citywide.
“They were downsized to the point that some units were unable to do all the inspections they needed to do,” he testified.
Councilwoman Joann Ariola, who heads the Council’s fire and emergency management committee, called former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s policy of diverting fire inspectors to COVID-related matters “unconscionable” and said she’d refer the matter to the Department of Investigation and the Council’s oversight committee.
“We looking forward to making sure these wrongs are righted,” she said. “It should be investigated.”