Two veteran firefighters were killed in a blaze at the abandoned Deutsche Bank building at 130 Liberty St. yesterday. The building was in the process of being dismantled after it was damaged beyond repair during the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. The New York Times reports that the fire started on the 17th floor, allowing the blaze to mushroom out of control as it consumed construction equipment and scaffolding, which fell to the street below. The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but a deconstruction crew was working at the site before the fire broke out and a police source told The Daily News that fire may have been caused by a construction worker's cigarette.
The two firefighter fatalities were 34-year-old Joseph Graffagnino and 56-year-old Robert Beddia. The pair were killed on the 14th floor of the building as they were overcome by choking smoke after a source said the oxygen in their tanks was depleted. The smoke inhalation sent the men into cardiac arrest. Beddia had been with the FDNY for 23 years and was the most experienced firefighter on the scene. Graffagnino and Beddia were veterans from Engine 24 and Ladder 5 of Battalion 2 on 6th Ave. and Houston St, the SoHo firehouse that lost 11 members on 9/11. Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said, "This house has seen more pain and devastation that anyone should have to deal with.
Scoppetta said that the fire was a particularly difficult one to battle. The fact that the Deutsche Bank building was being dismantled floor by floor meant that the building was filled with flammable materials like cardboard. In addition, the standpipe to the building was allegedly not working and firefighters had to pull hoses up from the street using ropes. Other sources say only one of the two construction elevators was working. Over 275 firefighters were called to the scene.
The once 40-story building had been reduced to 26 at the time of the fire, after years of delays in its destruction. Contamination from a number of toxic substances during the destruction of the World Trade Center necessitated the deliberate floor-by-floor dismantling effort. Residents and business owners in the area have long been concerned about the toxic dust still trapped in the building, but Mayor Bloomberg said that the air was safe - so far. The EPA is trying to figure out which of its air monitors is undamaged from the fire. Still, Maria Smith, member of Community Board 1, told the Post, "It should have been taken down as soon as they could after 9/11. The building was polluted. They left it so long that toxic mold grew - and people live all around it."
The News reports that area residents were not allowed into their homes as emergency vehicles filled the streets surrounding the fire because of concerns of toxic smoke and possible building collapse. In addition to the two firefighter fatalities, dozens of other firemen were treated for smoke inhalation or other injuries during the seven alarm blaze.
Cameraphone picture of fire at top by Todd Myers, photograph of FDNY response by Brian Fountain on Flickr