The investigation continues into last Sunday’s fire in a Bronx apartment building, and the cause of the fire has been identified as a faulty space heater.  The building was not equipped throughout with an automatic fire sprinkler system, as sprinklers were not required when the building was built in 1973.  The current number of fatalities has been changed to a total of 17 – 9 adults and 8 children.  A number of residents are still missing or have been hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.  According to news reports, all of the deaths appear to have been caused by smoke inhalation.  The video below from ABC7 includes some of the recent information released on Monday.

ABC7 Eyewitness News: Self-closing door at heart of investigation into Bronx fire that killed 17

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the door leading to the apartment where the fire began was left open when the residents escaped.  Apartment entry doors are required by current codes to be self-closing fire doors, and New York City Local Law 111 requires self-closing doors on all apartment entries.  The NYFD Commissioner has confirmed that the apartment door was a self-closing door and that nothing blocked the door to keep it open.  Nevertheless, it did not close.  The open apartment door and at least one open stairwell door allowed the smoke to spread:

USA Today: Bronx apartment blaze raises questions about safety doors, lack of sprinklers and fire escapes

“As they left, they opened the door, and the door stayed open,” Nigro said, who added that nothing blocked the door to keep it open.

A second door, between a hallway and stairs at the 15th floor, had also been open, enabling significant levels of smoke to reach that floor, he said.

Self-closing door violations were issued to Twin Parks North West in 2017 and 2019, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development said. The violations were corrected by 2020, and no self-closing door violations have since been issued to the complex, the department said.

Citywide, the department said it issued over 22,000 self-closing door violations in the 2021 fiscal year, and more than 18,000 of those violations were corrected.

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The lock on the door to the apartment of fire origin was repaired in July, and the “self-closing mechanism” was checked at that time:

USA Today:  New York mayor revises death toll to 17 in Bronx apartment fire, calls tragedy ‘unspeakable’

In July, maintenance workers repaired the lock on the entry door to the unit where the fire began. At that time, the self-closing mechanism was checked in accordance with standard operating procedure, the company said, adding that no concerns about the door had been reported to property management since then.

Adams said he will stress that schools need to teach fire safety – particularly closing doors – to the city’s students.

“We can save lives by closing the doors,” Adams said.

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The Twin Parks North West project was featured in the June 1973 issue of Architectural Forum (see page 61 for floor plans).  From the information in this article and several mentions in news coverage of the fire, it is clear that the building has a “scissor stair” arrangement, where both of the building’s egress stairs are located in one stairwell enclosure.  This gave residents only one option for egress, which quickly became compromised by smoke because of at least one open stairwell door.

In 2019, a fire occurred in a Minneapolis high rise building (which also had fire door issues), and the report from that fire says this about scissor stairs:

The two stairways were arranged in a “scissor stair” configuration, where both stairways are located within the same enclosure. This was a design practice from decades ago –especially in high-rise buildings – to save space and the cost of building a second enclosure.  Unfortunately, this practice was incongruent with the safe egress concept of having two ways out in an emergency. See Figure 6 for an example of a scissor stair.

Since both stairways are located within the same enclosure, or “shaft,” a single open door can quickly compromise both stairs, which are the only paths of egress from the upper stories of the building. Doors get opened as occupants use the stairway(s) to egress or as firefighting operations take place from within the stair enclosure.

Modern building, fire, and life safety codes have not allowed scissor stairs for new buildings for several years. Since the majority of the heat released in a fire is convective heat, which tends to travel upwards or vertically, the use of scissor stairs is a significant fire and life safety risk to the building’s occupants in a multi-story building.

LG Note: The italicized text above comes from a report published by the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s office, and states that scissor stairs are no longer allowed.  An iDigHardware reader pointed out that scissor stairs are not prohibited by code, but they only count as one means of egress – not two.  I’m not sure what would motivate the use of a scissor stair if it’s not to save on the cost of putting in a second stairwell in a remote location, but maybe there’s a reason they might still be used.

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Questions Remain:

  • What prevented the apartment door from closing to help limit the spread of the smoke and flames?
  • Was the stair door propped open or was the closing mechanism disabled?
  • Has an annual fire door assembly inspection program been implemented in the city, as required by the model codes and NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives?  If not, when will these inspections begin?

I am going to work on a fact sheet about fire doors, for people who may not be familiar with code requirements or with doors and hardware.  What would you include?

Photo: Richard Harbus for DailyMail.com

Graphic: Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division

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