Additional self-closing door legislation passes City Council in response to Twins Parks fire

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The 17 victims of the Fordham Heights fire were killed not by the flames themselves but by severe smoke inhalation caused by two jammed self-closing doors on the building’s third floor remaining open as the blaze began to spread.
Photo Adrian Childress

In the aftermath of the Jan. 9 Twins Parks fire that claimed the lives of 17 people and led to the displacement of more than 120 families, the details of how the fire started — a faulty self-closing door that allows flames to spread — prompted a slew of legislative action by city and state lawmakers.

Tuesday’s passage of legislation requiring inspections for self-closing doors in residential buildings provides a complement to the recent legislative package passed at the City Council’s May 19 Stated Meeting and signed into law Thursday.

The 17 victims of the Fordham Heights fire were killed not by the flames themselves but by severe smoke inhalation caused by two jammed self-closing doors on the building’s third floor remaining open as the blaze began to spread.

A malfunctioning space heater was responsible for starting the fire itself.

Among the bills passed on May 19, a bill by Fordham Councilmember Oswald Feliz, a Democrat who chairs the Twin Parks Citywide Taskforce on Fire Prevention Oswald Feliz, establishes a definition for the term “self-closing” door so it’s clear that applicable doors must return to the closed position and latch shut when opened and released.

Another Feliz bill would make some modifications to the enforcement of Local Law 111, which required that doors providing access to interior corridors or stairs be self-closing or equipped with devices to ensure closing after having been opened, with a deadline of July 31, 2021, for property owners to bring doors into compliance.

City Councilmember Oswald Feliz, a Fordham Democrat, believes that the Twin Parks fire, which killed 17 in his legislative district, could have been prevented if protocols had been followed. Credit John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

The Local Law also placed responsibility on owners of multiple dwellings to keep and maintain self-closing doors in good repair, and made failure to do so a class C or “immediately hazardous” violation.

While the passage of needed fire safety legislation is merely a Pyrrhic victory for those affected by the devastation of Twins Parks, city councilmembers hope this is a step toward preventing similar tragedies.

“Following the tragedy at the Twin Parks North West residential building in the Bronx, it is imperative that we continue to take meaningful and impactful actions to safeguard the lives of all New Yorkers,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “Strengthening inspection processes for self-closing doors will ultimately save lives, especially in higher risk buildings. I thank Council Member (Nantasha) Williams for shepherding this legislation forward and Chairs Feliz, (Pierina) Sanchez, and (Joann) Ariola for their leadership on fire safety.”

One of the bills, sponsored by Queens Councilmember Nantasha Williams, aims to improve the city’s inspection of self-closing doors. Additionally, the bill would short up communication between inspector units in the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) to better identify and aggregate data on self-closing doors and noncompliance with other fire safety laws.

“Residents deserve to live in buildings that take steps toward security and safety,” said Williams, a Democrat. “I’m proud to be the bill sponsor of Int 208-A, which will require landlords to maintain self-closing doors on all residential floors and to post fire safety notices in residential buildings. This bill will provide families reassurance and ensure that landlords are held accountable for the safety of their tenants. I want to thank Speaker Adams for her leadership and my City Council colleagues, those who have signed on to sponsor this bill.”

This bill also requires HPD to take a more proactive role in inspecting for self-closing door compliance. Each year, HPD would have to select 300 buildings to inspect, with the aim of targeting higher risk buildings like Twin Parks.

However, as reported by the Bronx Times on Wednesday, HPD is suffering from severe staffing shortages, with major losses in their inspector departments.

HPD, DHS and various city agencies struggling with severe staffing issues: report

HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr., a former Bronx borough president, noted in an April congressional hearing about the Twin Parks fire, that the department had been facing attrition issues, notably among housing inspectors. According to the Adams’ appointee, HPD only had 287 inspectors on payroll to fill a budgeted 429 inspector positions.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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