City Council addresses Twin Parks fire tragedy, passes package of fire safety bills

New York City Council
City Council Member Oswald Feliz (D – Bronx) at stated meeting. Thursday, May 19, 2022.
Photo courtesy of Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

The City Council Thursday passed a package of bills aimed at improving fire safety in apartment buildings in the wake of the deadly Bronx fire that tore through the Twin Parks North West apartment complex in January, claiming the lives of 17 people – eight of them children.

In a press conference before the bills were passed, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said the legislative package with bills sponsored by Council Members Oswald Feliz (D – Bronx), Pierina Sanchez (D – Bronx), Shahana Hanif (D – Brooklyn) and David Carr (R – Staten Island) will address many of the safety violations that caused the fire in the first place.

“We all know that earlier this year, a tragic residential building fire ignited at the 19-story Twin Parks North West apartment building in the Fordham [Heights] section of the Bronx claimed the lives of 17 New Yorkers, including eight children,” Adams said. “It was one of the worst tragedies in our city’s history and certainly the worst fire in New York in 30 years. Investigators found several violations and flaws that led to the horrible disaster. If proper measures were put in place, our fellow New Yorkers would still be here with us today. With this package of legislation, we are working to ensure that tragedies like the twin parks fire never happen again.”

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. And a malfunctioning space heater was responsible for starting the fire itself.

Feliz – whose district includes Twin Parks – said the bills, which would require new safety measures for self-closing doors and space heaters while improving fire safety education, will both prevent future fires and make it easier for people to escape burning buildings.

“Fire Safety continues to be a challenge for the city of New York, our entire city, including the borough of the Bronx, a borough that has been plagued by fire and tragedies related to fire for so many years and so many decades,” Feliz said. “We have so much work to do on the issue of fire safety. First, we have to tackle all the causes of fire, as we’re doing today on the issue of automatic shut off for space heaters. At the same time, number two, we have to provide the tools for families to be able to escape in the case of fire.”

One of those tools, Feliz said, is ensuring that self-closing doors are functioning properly, something he seeks to do with his two bills – Ints. 104a and 105a. His first bill would establish a definition for the term “self-closing door” for how it’s used in the Housing Maintenance Code, so it’s clear that doors must return to the closed position and latch shut when opened and released.

His second bill would reduce the amount of time that landlords have to fix self-closing door violations from 21 to 14 days and require the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to conduct an inspection of the building within 20 days if the landlord fails to meet the deadline. The bill would also impose $250 to $500 fines on landlords neglecting to fix malfunctioning self-closing doors and on those who falsely state that they’ve addressed violations when they haven’t.

“There was one tool that could have prevented the Twin Parks devastating fire tragedy,” Feliz said.” There was one tool: properly functioning self-closing doors. Had those self-closing doors actually worked, that smoke would not have filled the entire 19-story high rise and those families would have been able to safely escape. Had those self-closing doors worked, that fire in a fireproof building would not have turned into a tragedy where the 17 angels, 17 Innocent people, lost their lives.”

Another bill – Int. 106a – in the package, sponsored by Hanif, would address the issue of malfunctioning space heaters by imposing certain safety standards for devices sold in the city. Under the bill, Hanif said, all space heaters sold in the five boroughs would have to be equipped with a thermostat, an automatic function that disables the device if it overheats or tips over and certification from a nationally recognized safety laboratory.

“We know we cannot eliminate space heater usage,” Hanif said. “Unfortunately, in New York City, while landlords have an obligation to their tenants to provide adequate heating, this obligation is often not met. And residents are forced to resort to using electric heaters to stay warm. These essential pieces of safety technology will significantly reduce the risk of a space heater caught on fire.”

Sanchez’s bill – Int. 131a – would require the New York Fire Department (FDNY) to add instructions for how to safely operate space heaters to their fire safety education campaigns. It would also require them to provide materials in the top ten most commonly spoken languages in the city. Carr’s Int. 155a would waive filing fees for owners of one to three family homes seeking to repair damage caused by a fire.

Sanchez said while this is the first package of fire safety bills the new City Council is passing in the wake of the Twin Parks fire, it certainly won’t be the last.

“We are addressing proximate causes today,” Sanchez said. “But to be clear, we do not stop now, we do not rest. We continue to improve building and fire safety. Holding landlords accountable, modernizing our fire and building codes and ensuring that adequate code enforcement is working in the interest of the safety of all New Yorkers.”