When readers of iDigHardware hear of a door-related tragedy, many will send me links to news stories, social media discussions, and other information about the incident. I feel honored to have a job and a voice that allow me to make a difference, and I’m grateful to have connections who believe that I can help.
Yesterday I received dozens of emails, texts, and Facebook messages about the apartment fire that occurred in the Bronx yesterday morning. At least 17 people – including 8 children* – were killed in the fire, with many more critically injured. As with past fires, the NYFD Commissioner highlighted the open apartment door during his press conference. From the New York Times:
Commissioner Nigro said the fire started in a bedroom on the third floor where a space heater was being used. Once the fire spread in that apartment, individuals ran out and left the door open, which helped fuel the fire and allowed the smoke to spread. “We’ve spread the word, ‘close the door, close the door’” to keep a fire contained, he said.
There will be more information to come regarding what happened during this fire and how it affected the loss of life, the severity of injuries, and the property damage. I will share that when I have it. For now, a few thoughts…
1) Self-closing apartment doors have been required by the US model codes for decades. In the 1948 edition of NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code, a chapter addressing “apartment houses” was added. This section required apartment buildings meeting certain criteria to have fire doors on the apartment entries and stairwells. Fire doors are required to be self-closing, automatic-closing, or power-operated, with very few exceptions, to ensure that the door is closed and latched during a fire. In the 1973 edition of NFPA 101, a line was added to the code which specifically stated that apartment entry doors were required to be self-closing. This requirement was not limited to certain types of apartment buildings, it applied to all buildings that met the definition of an apartment building:
2) New York City Local Law 111 requires all apartment entry doors to be self-closing. This law was passed after a 2017 fire in the Bronx, which killed 13 people and injured 14, and the deadline for compliance was July 31, 2021:
§ 28-315.10 Self-closing doors. All doors providing access to interior corridors or stairs in occupancy groups R-1 and R-2 shall be self-closing or equipped with a device that will ensure closing after having been opened by July 31, 2021.
In addition, the law amended the administrative code of NYC, establishing responsibility for maintaining the doors, and consequences for failure to do so:
§ 27-2041.1 Self-closing doors.
a. It shall be the duty of the owner of a multiple dwelling, which is required to be equipped with self-closing doors pursuant to section 28-315.10, or any other applicable law, to keep and maintain such doors in good repair.
b. Any owner required to keep and maintain self-closing doors pursuant to subdivision a of this section who fails to keep or maintain such doors shall be liable for a class C immediately hazardous violation. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, the time within which to correct such violation shall be twenty-one days after service of the notice of violation.
In Sunday’s fire, we don’t know (yet) why the door didn’t close. Was the door self-closing but something obstructed it and prevented it from closing when residents escaped? Had the self-closing device been deactivated or damaged? Or was the door non-compliant with building codes, fire codes, and NYC Local Law 111?
3) Stairwell fire doors play an extremely important role in fire safety and egress. In the Bronx fire, several victims of the fire were found in the stairwells. The New York Times article states:
Commissioner Nigro said the building did not have fire escapes, only interior stairways, leaving the residents with only a short window to flee as smoke made its way throughout the building.
In a building of this height, current codes would require the interior stairwell doors to provide at least 90 minutes of fire protection, along with 2-hour walls enclosing the stairwell. If the fire doors were closed and latched, building occupants should have had time to enter the protected area of the stairwell, and make their way to the ground floor or wait for assistance from the fire department. I have not seen mention of whether the stairway doors were open or closed at the time of the fire, but open stairwell doors could help to explain the rapid spread of smoke and the compromised egress routes.
4) Fire door assembly inspections are required by code, after installation, after maintenance work, and annually. These requirements were added to the codes and standards because of the appalling condition of millions of fire doors across the U.S. Annual inspections help to ensure that a fire door will perform as designed and tested if there is a fire. Without the inspections, who knows?
While some jurisdictions are enforcing the annual fire door assembly inspection requirements, some are not. Why not? These inspections, typically conducted by 3rd-party inspectors trained in fire door requirements, document the condition of existing fire doors. Needed repairs must be completed “without delay” and can be confirmed by the AHJ upon review of the documentation. This is an incredibly valuable tool for AHJs when evaluating the fire safety of a building.
I will be focusing this week’s posts on this topic…we owe it to the residents of Twin Parks North West and all other apartment residents. This is not the first fire of this type, nor will it be the last.
If you have questions or comments, or more information about this fire, please share them in the box below.
*The number of fatalities was modified by the medical examiner on January 10, 2022.