Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: Protecting Fire Fighters

At the city council’s stated meeting on May 9, the council members unanimously approved a bill requiring that the fire department be notified of any substantial changes in existing buildings. During the meeting, which also featured the long-delayed swearing in of new City Councilmember Mathieu Eugene and continued debate over whether to rename a street for black activist Sonny Carson, the council passed a resolution in favor of a federal program that would provide money to help those who responded to and worked or lived near the World Trade Center collapse on September 11, 2001. A number of new bills were announced as well.

Fire Department Notifications

The measure to improve safety information for firefighters, Bill 553A, was introduced by Councilmember Miguel Martinez and Council Speaker Christine Quinn and passed unanimously.

The proposal arose from the death of two firefighters last summer when the damaged floor of a burning building collapsed. Quinn explained that, in conversations following the accident, firefighters cited the issue of unknown structural problems in buildings. “When work is going on, obviously a structure may be less sound and less secure, and that makes a collapse, like happened that day in the Bronx, more likely,” she said.

The bill requires the buildings department to notify the fire department when permits for substantial renovations are issued. Currently, the fire department receives notice only of permits related to the installation of fire suppression, sprinkler and alarm systems. Amending the administrative code, this bill would expand that requirement also to include all permits involving substantial structural alterations such as changing a one-family home to a two-family home, transforming a facility from commercial to residential or relocating a building’s entrances.

Under the new procedure, when the Department of Buildings issues a so-called ALT 1 Permit for substantial changes, it will tell the fire departments in that jurisdiction within one business day. This is intended to help firefighters prepare more safely and efficiently to extinguish fires in buildings, particularly if their structural integrity may be compromised.

Martinez, chair of the Fire Safety and Criminal Justice Committee, said of the safety initiative, “This is the first step in insuring that our agencies are communicating. This is the first in insuring that when we have a fire department responding to a fire, they have all the information available to them so they can better respond.” Such information, he said, will help “prevent the loss or injury of the responders that are going to that fire.”

The council is considering another measure to enhance safety information through similar communication with the buildings department. Councilmember Gale Brewer recently introduced Intro 496 to require building owners to file floor layout plans with the fire department. Initially, the bill called for the submission of detailed floor plans, but critics like Frank Rici of the Rent Stabilization Association found this to be too onerous, and fire experts described the measure as “pointless.” After public hearings, the bill was changed to require only “flight” plans, specifically how the stories of a building are arranged, such as showing that the 13th floor of a building is instead labeled as the 14th floor.

While proponents say these two measures would increase the information that is available to firefighters on particular buildings, work that goes on without permits will remain undocumented.

Grant Money for 9/11 Health

The council unanimously passed Resolution 738, which was first introduced by Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr., in support of the 9/11 Heroes Health Improvement Act of 2007. This federal legislation sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton would create a grant program for programs providing medical and mental health monitoring, tracking, and treatment for individuals who suffered from ill health effects following their work at Ground Zero after 9/11. The bill would especially support organizations working with those who lack medical benefits or whose expenses go beyond their coverage. The federal bill would authorize $2 billion for such programs between 2008 and 2012. Currently, the act has four other Senate sponsors, including New York’s Charles Schumer. A companion bill in the House of Representatives was introduced by Jerrold Nadler and sponsored by 16 other members of the House, including several from New York State and City.

Reports and Updates

The Committee on Aging’s Subcommittee on Senior Centers submitted a report on the emergency preparedness of senior centers. The report included recommendations for improvements, such as generators for summer blackouts, contact lists of homebound seniors, and bus service.

Also, the council updated the membership rosters of various subcommittees.


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