F.D.N.Y. disputes L.M.D.C. claims after Deutsche standpipe is cut

By Julie Shapiro

Work continued at the Deutsche Bank building for seven hours Thursday after an alarm warned that the building’s standpipe was broken.

The alarm on the standpipe, which supplies the upper floors with water during a fire, went off at 8:30 a.m. Thursday when a worker accidentally removed a 10-foot section of the pipe.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which owns the building, initially said all work stopped immediately Thursday after the alarm went off. But F.D.N.Y. spokesperson Jim Long said work continued until the end of the shift around 3:30 p.m. The L.M.D.C. also said workers in the building were evacuated in the afternoon, but Long said the word “evacuation” was not precisely correct.

“It wasn’t an evacuation so much as a change in shifts,” Long said, with the night shift barred from the building after the day shift finished.

L.M.D.C. spokesperson Michael Murphy initially told Downtown Express that “the Fire Dept. and Buildings Dept. were on the scene immediately and the job was shut down until safety was insured.”

When told of Long’s account in a subsequent call, Murphy put the call on hold and then acknowledged that the work continued after the alarm went off.

Thursday was the first time the standpipe alarm sounded since it was installed in the wake of the 2007 blaze in the building that killed two firefighters. A broken standpipe left the firefighters trapped in the building without water during that fire. The three construction managers who are accused of removing a section of the standpipe prior to the fire to speed the cleaning of the building, now face manslaughter and other charges from the district attorney.

The worker who accidentally cut the pipe Thursday was on the second floor of the 26-story building removing sheetrock from the ceiling, part of the exhaustive cleaning protocol to rid the building of asbestos contamination. The worker found the standpipe, which usually runs vertically up the building, running horizontally behind the sheetrock. Not realizing its importance, he cut off 10 feet of it.

The standpipe must be painted red and this portion of the pipe “did have red markings on it,” Long said, but the worker did not recognize them.

“How could he not recognize the standpipe?” asked an incredulous Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee.

Hughes said workers should have been evacuated as soon as the alarm went off, not seven hours later when their shift ended.

“If the standpipe isn’t working and there’s a fire, how would you put the fire out?” Hughes said. “Obviously, on this job, we know how important standpipes are.”

The F.D.N.Y. did not want to evacuate the building until they figured out what the problem was, but they immediately told local firehouses the standpipe wasn’t working, Long said. It took the F.D.N.Y. until 3 p.m. to discover the gap in the pipe on the second floor, because they were busy checking each of the pipe’s valves, assuming the breach was small and easy to fix, Long said. The gauge on the system, which measures air pressure in the pipe, showed that it still had some pressure, which led the F.D.N.Y. to assume a small leak, not a gaping hole.

“Generally, you’re not thinking someone cut anything,” Long said.

Plumbers repaired the standpipe by 10 p.m. Thursday, and the Buildings Dept. lifted its brief stop-work order shortly afterward, the L.M.D.C.’s Murphy said.

The L.M.D.C. will not jump right back into the decontamination work that had been going round the clock until the standpipe breach. While fine-cleaning work will continue this weekend, any heavy work will wait until the L.M.D.C. repaints and retags the entire standpipe and meets with all the construction supervisors, Murphy said. The L.M.D.C. also plans to enlarge the maps on each floor that show where the standpipe is. The safety improvements will likely take several days.

Government regulators are currently reviewing a demolition plan for the building, which was heavily damaged on 9/11. The physical removal of the top of the building has been on hold since the fatal fire, but contractors began removing the façade at the end of last year. The L.M.D.C. hopes the deconstruction will resume by the end of April and finish by mid-October.