Hell's Kitchen fire prompts new fire safety bill

January 12, 2014 6:53:59 AM PST
New York City Council members are announcing new legislation to improve fire safety after a deadly blaze in a Manhattan high-rise building.

27-year old Daniel McClung was killed when smoke filled his Hell's Kitchen building at 500 West 43rd St. on January 5th.

His husband, 32-year old Michael Todd Cohen, was injured in the fire.

On Monday, City Councilman Corey Johnson and other elected officials will gather at City Hall to announce they are introducing a bill to require additional safety measures in high-rise residential buildings.

The proposed legislation works to ensure first responders and building management are better able to communicate with residents during emergencies.

Cohen and McClung were found in a stairwell on the 31st floor.

An Eyewitness News investigation raised disturbing questions about fire safety in New York City high-rise buildings, finding two key fire protections are not required in most of them.

December 1998, a fire in the high-rise apartment of Macaulay Culkin's family ended with four people dead in a stairwell. That pushed City Council to require all new residential high-rises to have sprinklers. But that leaves the vast majority of apartment buildings built before 1999 without them, including the Standard site of last week's fatal fire.

"You and I would not be having this interview if that building was sprinkled, it would have gone off and it would have put the fire out and that would have been the end of it," said Glenn Corbett, a Fire Safety Expert.

But there's another less costly measure that fire experts say could have made a big difference in the Hell's Kitchen fire.

"That communication system, we have it in office buildings, we have it in hotels," said Vincent Dunn, Retired FNDY Deputy Fire Chief.

We do not have it in hundreds of high-rise apartments built before 2008. A public address system, says Retired Deputy Fire Chief Vincent Dunn, would allow an incident commander to quickly communicate with people in their apartments during a fire to tell them what to do, such as don't flee.

"Without the information, it's more likely people make a mistake, leave the apartment, and die in hallway and stairways," Dunn said.

That's what happened on Sunday and in 1998, and will happen again say fire safety experts unless public address systems are also required in older high-rises.

"As an incident commander I've seen the importance of a communication system, the need to give the people instructions during the time of a fire," Dunn said.

"Perhaps this would have played a role in this recent fire on 43rd Street," Corbett said.