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The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development will designate 300 buildings to investigate in the next year to ensure that they have working self-closing doors, one outcome of the January 2022 Twin Parks fire in the Bronx that killed 17 people, some of whom died because the doors failed.
The HPD instituted a rule change last month, mandated by a city law passed in 2022, that will allow the department to select 300 different buildings with six or more units for their investigators to check for compliance.
“The rationale for this requirement is to ensure that in case of a fire in an apartment, smoke will not spread to hallways and other apartments due to a door that is left open and does not self-close,” a summary of the rule reads. The new directive will focus the department’s efforts on buildings constructed before 1999 that have a fire safety violation, at least five heat complaints or a complaint about a self-closing door.
Fire and Housing Preservation officials have shared data that will allow the HPD inspectors to hone in on buildings ripe for inspection, the FDNY said. Discussions between the two departments are ongoing.
“In buildings which potentially have such hazards, a non-functioning self-closing door may result in serious harm, and repeated heat complaints may indicate conditions that may cause tenants to use heaters that could cause a fire,” the rule’s summary explains. The Twin Peaks fire was caused by a broken electric space heater, the FDNY said.
During routine building checks, HPD’s inspectors check all public doors and those of individual apartments to see if they close automatically, said Matthew Gugliotta, president and business manager of the Allied Building Inspectors, a local of the International Union of Operating Engineers that represents building inspectors in HPD, the Department of Buildings and elsewhere.
“Checking for self-closing doors is already part of our duties,” Gugliotta told The Chief in a phone interview Monday. An HPD spokesperson said the inspections would begin soon.
“Self-closing doors keep New Yorkers safe and we’ll continue to do everything in our power to make sure buildings are in compliance with our policies, including increasing enforcement under this new rule,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
HPD inspectors, unlike the FDNY’s fire protection inspectors, are permitted to inspect New Yorker’s private dwellings to check apartment doors and can respond to tenant complaints. Fire protection inspectors check all public doors within buildings, said Darryl Chalmers, a retired FDNY fire protection inspector who’s also on the executive board of DC 37 Local 2507, which represents fire inspectors, EMTs and paramedics.
A city-imposed mandate for self-closing doors gathered momentum following a Bronx fire in December 2017 that killed 13 thirteen people — then the city’s deadliest fire in a quarter-century. The next year the City Council passed a law stating that all doors in buildings with multiple units be self-closing and inspectors at HPD started checking to ensure the doors worked as intended, Gugliotta said.
After the Twin Parks fire, the Council passed another package of bills that included Local Law 71, an update to the 2018 law, which instructed HPD to develop a rule by July 1 of this year to inspect 300 buildings annually to ensure all doors had self-closing capabilities. The new law instructs HPD to collaborate with the FDNY on selecting which buildings to include in the 300, and to not investigate buildings that are already under administrative oversight or are being otherwise monitored.
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