In a rare statement in the aftermath of the Twin Parks North West high-rise fire that killed 17 residents and displaced 140 families on Jan.9, property owners told the Bronx Times that the building’s front doors, fire alarms and hot water systems were working properly at the time of the fire.
Tenants have claimed — and testified recently in congressional hearings last month addressing federal fire safety regulations in federally subsidized housing complexes — that the fire alarms in the building were so faulty that they regularly experienced false alarms and had this and other issues been addressed sooner, many more residents could have escaped the inferno with their lives.
“The building’s front doors, fire alarms and hot water systems were working properly at the time of the fire. The heating system was also fully operational prior to the fire. There are computerized heat sensors installed throughout the building that constantly read the temperature and provide feedback to the heating system,” Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC told the Bronx Times in a statement.
The Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC consortium, which includes Belveron Partners, the LIHC Investment Group and The Camber Property Group, are defendants in four lawsuits, including a $3 billion class-action lawsuit. One lawsuit, spearheaded by national civil rights attorney Ben Crump alleges that the negligence of building owners in failing to ensure the building was compliant with health and safety codes led to the disastrous outcomes of Jan 9.
Those affected by the fire continue to endure rehousing efforts on a month-to-month basis, city officials say. Property owners told the Bronx Times that 67 displaced tenants have signed leases with La Central, an affordable housing hub in the South Bronx that the city’s offered as a relocation destination.
At the time of the Twin Parks fire, the 52-year-old building had been flagged with 18 open violations and 174 total violations since the new ownership consortium Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC had taken over in 2020, records filed with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) show.
In the year preceding the fire, residents of Twin Parks filed more than 30 complaints that detailed dangerous and poor living conditions, including 311 filings about ventilation and fire retardant material, other “immediately hazardous” requests from tenants that remain open describe lead paint in their bathrooms and hallways, roach infestations in kitchen walls, and mice crawling throughout their entire apartments. And complaints dated from December 2020, all of which have been marked as closed, describe apartments that had no heat.
One unit, 6K, made 10 different complaints last month alone, including “no heat,” roaches in the entire apartment, a front door that does not self-close, a broken radiator in the living room, a damaged pipe in the bathroom, and no heat. Most of these filings were marked as resolved before the blaze.
Bronx politico Ritchie Torres opined in a conversation with the Bronx Times last month that there was no automatic coordination between state and city agencies, and noted that New York City’s Heat Law only required that an apartment be kept at 62 degrees at night, regardless of the outdoor temperature. Newly appointed HPD Commissioner Alfredo Carrion, the former Bronx borough president, also recognized this as an issue.
During the day, the law requires the temperature to be below 55 degrees outside for the heat to be regulated in apartment units, which becomes an issue if the temperature drops later. Carrion said that most of the 620,000 violations that HPD reported in 2021 were heat-related and that the department received 500,000 additional complaints that same year.
On the day of the fire, property owners told the Times that the average apartment temperature was 71.2 degrees.
Self-closing doors, functioning fire alarms, and well-lit pathways and exit signs are also required by state law. The 120-unit brick building had no fire escapes and outdated stairways, which fire safety experts say made it difficult for residents to flee the thick smoke that quickly enveloped their halls and homes largely in part to a door that did not close when it should have.
The city’s fire inspection process has also been under reform in the wake of the fire.
Fire officials assigned to inspect the Fordham Heights building were diverted to a COVID task force in 2021 to ensure restaurants followed pandemic guidelines, revealed Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, at a hearing before the New York City Council Committee on Fire and Emergency Management in March. Barzilay believes that inspectors would have flagged the malfunctioning doors — which caused the fire to spread quickly throughout the complex causing eight children and nine adults to die of smoke inhalation — for repairs.
The FDNY currently has 300 fire protection inspectors, who are in charge of examining smoke detectors, fire exits, life safety kits and any potential source of fire hazards.
According to FDNY officials, 200,000 smoke alarms were distributed or installed between 2013 and 2021, and 2,100 fire safety presentations were conducted last year — 610 were in the Bronx, which accounts for 28% of all presentations.
In March, Mayor Eric Adams signed Executive Order 12, which requires an extensive educational campaign on fire safety and stronger sanctions against landlords who don’t comply with city regulations. Since the fire, the FDNY scheduled 900 presentations in collaboration with the NYPD, the American Red Cross, and the city Department of Education.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes