While the five-alarm fire in the Bronx Sunday that killed 17, including eight children, was one of the worst in NYC history, the deaths were avoidable, according to a high-ranking fire official.
FDNY Capt. Michael Kozo, the commanding officer of the FDNY’s Fire Safety Education Unit, said the Twin Parks North West complex at 333 E. 181st St., in Fordham Heights was a fireproof building, meaning if people had stayed in their apartments, the majority would be alive today. The excessive smoke and the inhalation of those fumes — not the fire itself — is what resulted in the 17 fatalities as people tried to escape.
The Jan. 9 blaze, believed to have been started by a faulty space heater, is the worst fire in the borough since the Happy Land social club arson fire in 1990, which claimed 87 lives.
Kozo was invited to talk about the major blaze at the Bronx Community Board 5 Police Merchants Meeting on Monday night. He said the apartment doors in the building are supposed to self-close, yet one malfunctioned, which allowed the smoke to spread quickly from the unit in which the fire originated.
“One of the lessons we learned today is everybody needs to know the type of building they live in,” Kozo said.
The captain told the Bronx Times that buildings 75 feet or higher are designed to withstand fires for three to four hours. He said fire safety plans explaining how to escape in the event of a fire are typically posted in the lobby or common area. Those plans should also explain that the building is in fact fireproof, he added.
Kozo said the best options for residents facing such a situation would have been to stuff a cold damp towel under the door and stay in the apartment until the fire is controlled or help arrives, or if they left their apartment, to make sure the door shut behind them.
“We saw a lot of people trying to exit the building,” he said. “It’s usually safer to stay inside your apartment.”
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson also attended the meeting and praised the FDNY for their heroism.
The fire, only a few blocks from Rivera’s district office on Grand Concourse, hit very close to home, he said.
“It’s times like these when we are reminded how essential these folks are,” said Rivera about the FDNY. “Thank you for the work you guys do.”
Gibson, who is in just her second week on the job as borough president, has been seen everywhere from at the scene of the fire early on Sunday afternoon to trying to find ways to help the displaced residents of Twin Parks — included appearing on CNN on Monday night.
She thanked her colleagues in government, the first responders and praised New Yorkers as they have already received enough donations of clothes and supplies and right now are only asking for financial help.
“It’s our mission and goal to provide as much support as we can for the residents of Twin Parks,” she said. “I’m asking all of you to pray for the families. They are traumatized, but we will be with them every step of the way.”
Gibson added she has even received calls from Hot97 and Cardi B and A Boogie, Bronx rap artists, about how they can help.
“We are not going to rest until every family is accommodated,” she said. “My heart is so broken when I think about the families we lost.”
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.