by: Lou Angeli
compiled from dispatches
Two New York firefighters perished while fighting a major blaze in the Deutsche Bank building, just 50 yards from Ground Zero. The building was in the process of being dismantled after it was deemed unsafe following the events of 9/11/01.
The deceased firefighters, both assigned to Ladder 5 amd Engine 24 have been identified as Joseph Graffagnino, 34, an 8 year member of FDNY and 23-year veteran Robert Beddia. On 9/11/01 their firehouse in the Soho section of Manhattan lost 11 members.
WNBC likened the scene to 9/11/01. The acrid smell of smoke, which hung over the neighborhood for days after September 11th, returned to lower Manhattan along with the wail of emergency vehicles.
The abandoned building was being dismantled after it was contaminated in the September 11th attacks. On Tuesday of this past week, workers had dismatled the former 40 story high rise to the 26th floor.
According to initial reports, the blaze broke out at 3:30pm (EDT) between the 14th and 15th floors. The attack was delayed when firefighters found that standpipes were not operational, allowing the blaze to free burn. Firefighters bgean the lengthy task of carrying hoses to upper floors, while others were hoisted by rope to the 17th floor, where the fire started. Within two hours, fire commanders escalated the incident to 7 alarms, bringing 270 firefighters and paramedics, and 70 pieces of apparatus to the scene.
Only a few fire service vehicles were actually operating on scene, directly under the building. Those companies included Engine 10 and Ladder 10, both stationed just feet away on Liberty Street. The remaining companies were staged on West Side Highway and along Church Street – familiar names for those who served at Ground Zero.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency had required that polyurethane sheets surround the building to prevent asbestos and other harmful debris from leaking out. But according to New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, those safety barriers hindered the firefighting operation.
The polyurethane in the building "may in fact have made this fire harder to fight," Spitzer said.
Concerns were raised that smoke plumes coming from the burning building contained the same hazardous materials that caused the building to be condemned several years ago. The most dangerous of those toxic materials is asbestos in a building loaded with the banned fire retardant.
At a Saturday evening press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to reassure residents that the chemicals in the building did not present a significant health risk, saying officials saw no need to establish a frozen zone. Firefighters on the scene weren’t buying the mayor’s appraisal, recalling promises by former EPA head Christy Todd Whitman, who claimed on September 13, 2001 that the air at Ground Zero was OK to breathe.
"Terrible event, terrible tragedy, and that house being hit again makes it all the more devastating," said Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. At least six other firefighters suffered minor injuries, none seriously.
The Deutsche Bank Building sustained major damage during the events of 9/11/01 and was ultimately deemed unsafe to restore. Deconstruction began in 2005 but work was halted for a week last year when a 22-foot-long section of pipe fell from one of the upper floors and went through the roof of a neighboring firehouse, Fire Station 10.
resources: WNBC, WCBS, NY1
photos courtesy: Brian Fountain