NYC cracks down on fire code violations

June 10, 2008 11:12:16 AM PDT
More than 100 building and business owners have been arrested in the past week for fire code violations including faulty sprinklers, blocked exits and no fire extinguishers, authorities said Tuesday.The sweep by the city's Department of Investigation and Fire Department is aimed at scofflaws who have ignored criminal summonses for such violations.

Overall, 221 people have been arrested since last July, and 104 in the past week alone. In addition, the agencies have issued more than $50,000 in fines, ranging from $100 to $2,000.

"We are going to keep going with these, and we are not going to stop making these arrests," said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said. "Ignoring these means we are going to slap the handcuffs on you."

Hearn said hundreds more face arrest if they don't resolve fire code violations that include failure to maintain a standpipe or sprinkler system, blocked exits, illegally stored propane and no fire extinguishers.

"The criminal defendants will have to come back to court with proof that they have addressed the violations," Hearn said.

Last year, a blaze erupted at a condemned ground zero skyscraper that left two firefighters dead. Investigators later determined that a broken standpipe in the former Deutsche Bank building had left firefighters without water to fight the blaze. Contractors were fined by the federal government for some 40 safety hazards.

Hearn said the sweep was not related to that fire, which is under investigation by the Manhattan district attorney's office. Instead, DOI realized that there was a huge backlog of these summonses and started rounding up people last summer, Hearn said.

The citywide sweep is unusual but Hearn said fire code violations are a serious public safety problem.

"Once we see something, we are not passers-by when it comes to the city," she said. "This was certainly a system that wasn't working properly."