Bill in the works to protect firefighters

BY Aline Reynolds

On August 18, 2007, firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino died in a fire at the former Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty Street while it was undergoing demolishment.

Nearly three years later, legislators are now urging Governor Paterson to sign a bill into law that would better equip first responders in such state-owned buildings.

The bill would assemble a city and state task force by March 1, 2011 that would identify specific safety methods for firefighters in state-owned buildings or ones owned by public authorities. The Governor received the bill on July 19 and has until the end of the month to sign it, according to State Senator Daniel Squadron.

“What you need is a consistent track [record] with the [city] Fire Department so that they know what they’re going into when they go into a building,” said Squadron at the July 22 press conference. “That’s what the bill will hope to accomplish.”

Under the current law, firefighters do not have access to maps of buildings owned by the state or public authorities, since they do not abide by city fire or building codes. First responders are in much greater danger when they lack direction in the buildings, supporters of the bill note.

“The ultimate solution is to have all buildings in the city of New York under codes and ensure that fire departments have plans for all the buildings,” Squadron added.

Squadron was joined by Joseph Graffagnino, Sr., Joseph Graffagnino Jr.’s father, assembly member Richard Gottfried, council members Richard Gottfried and Margaret Chin and F.D.N.Y Chief Rich Tobin.

Graffagnino Sr. said that firefighters are put into harm’s way because they’re not given the proper material to do their jobs.

“Buildings like [130 Liberty] murder first responders. It’s a death trap…we hope to stop that,” he said, with the proposed legislation. “The windows were covered over in heavy plastic — firemen could not get through.”

“What they found in this particular building was that stairwells were covered in heavy timber,” he continued. “The exhaust fans were attracting flames and smoke inside, as opposed to outside, the building.”

“How can it be that firefighters don’t have plans and don’t know what they’re going into when they’re trying to save lives? This has got to change,” said Council Member Margaret Chin.

Moving forward, “We’ll see what the recommendations are from the task force, how strong they are, and what it will take to get them implemented,” said Gottfried, in response to whether future legislation will be needed to complement the bill.

Since the incident, the Fire Department has disciplined seven of its own officers and a criminal investigation into the fire lead to manslaughter indictments of three construction supervisors and a subcontractor, John Galt Corp.