Gillibrand and Torres unveil safety proposals in wake of Fordham Heights fire

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Congressman Ritchie Torres and the Bronx Task Force on Fire Safety unveil federal legislative measures to improve fire safety following the Jan. 9 fire in Fordham Heights.
Photos Jason Cohen

In response to one of the deadliest fires in NYC history, lawmakers at the federal level recently unveiled measures that they hope will prevent future tragedies.

On Jan. 17, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and officials from the Bronx Fire Safety Task Force — convened in the wake of the devastating Jan. 9 Twin Parks North West fire that killed 17, including eight children — visited the site of the Twin Parks North West fire where they announced their intent to spearhead new federal legislation to hold federally funded or regulated multi-family housing developments accountable for heating violations.

That blaze in the Fordham Heights section of the Bronx, 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. Three lawsuits have already been filed against the building’s property owners Bronx Park Phase III Preservation — a consortium that includes Belveron Partners, the LIHC Investment Group and The Camber Property Group.

Gillibrand, a Democrat, said she will work with Torres and lead the Senate bill that will require the installation of heat sensors in certain federally funded buildings so that heat levels can be assessed in real time, prevent future fire tragedies and improve fire safety and housing quality.

The legislation, if passed, would enable the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, state and local housing administrators to receive real-time reports that flag when the level of heating in a unit is out of compliance with the Housing Quality Standards heat requirements. This bill would be based on a citywide bill Torres led when he was a member of the New York City Council, which requires the NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development to install heat sensors in the 50 residences with the most heat and hot water violations. It also required inspections at these residences every two weeks.

“We cannot let a tragedy like this happen in our communities ever again,” Gillibrand said. “My heart is with the Twin Parks North West community and the families and friends who lost a loved one in the fire. This is a matter of grave urgency, and I’m proud to be working with Congressman Torres to introduce a bill that will ensure buildings are in compliance with all heating requirements during cold-weather months to prevent future tragedies.”

Earlier this month, Torres was joined by members of the newly formed Bronx Task Force on Fire Safety as he announced the federal legislation he plans on introducing in Congress. The task force was created to address fire safety concerns and aims to take legislative action on a city, state and federal level, and includes Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, state Assemblywoman Yudelka Tapia and City Council members Oswald Feliz and Pierina Sanchez.

“New York City’s worst fires in the last 30 years have all been in the Bronx and that is not an accident, that is a consequence of a chronically neglected housing stock here in the Bronx,” Torres said at a separate press conference on Jan. 14.

In addition to the legislation he is working on with Gillibrand, Torres will also separately introduce three additional bills in the House in the coming weeks focusing on space heats, self-closing doors and housing quality standard inspections.

The lawmaker was not surprised that a faulty space heater caused the fire, he said — more than 80%of home fire-related deaths are caused by space heaters.

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson speaks about legislation to prevent future fires.

“If the space heater had shut off at Twin Parks North West, the fire would have been prevented,” he said.

Not only are space heaters often the root cause of fires, but they also display a deeper issue in housing, Torres said, referencing landlord mistreatment of their tenants.

“The space heater is often a cry for help,” he said. “It’s time to bring housing code enforcement to the 21st century.”

Gibson not only supported the proposed federal legislation, but also wanted to assure the victims of the fire that elected officials are doing everything they can to help. Gibson said there is misinformation floating around that the residents will be forced to move back home; the city is working to relocate families to new homes in the Bronx.

She said right now the most important thing is making sure the victims are getting the food, shelter, supplies and help they need. According to Gibson, all of the victims families have been assured that their funerals will be paid for and death certificates and visas are being expedited so family members from other countries can attend the funerals. Since this press conference, Bronx rap artist Cardi B announced she will pay for the funerals for all of the victims.

“This devastating fire that occurred at Twin Parks has caused national attention,” she said. “This fire was preventable. We’re going to make sure every funeral is accommodated.”

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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