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More Safety Issues Surface in Wake of Tragic Bronx Fire

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

In addition to the numerous code violations in the building that caught fire this past Sunday morning, the door to the apartment where the fire started did not close allowing smoke and flames to rage throughout the entire building.

According to the NY Post, ” Mamadou Wague, 47, said he didn’t even realize the door was left open until he was told about it by fire officials later.

Authorities said earlier Monday that the apartment door was supposed to be self-closing but may have “malfunctioned,’’ sending smoke soaring through the 19-story structure and killing at least 17 people.

“When you push the door all the way to the edge, it didn’t close by itself,” said Wague, who was in the apartment with his wife and eight kids when the fire started.

“It’s very sad. I don’t even remember the door staying open because all I could think about was getting everybody out,” the dad said.

A closed door would have contained the smoke and the fire at least long enough for more of the residents to exit the towering inferno.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Monday that the flames from the blaze were largely contained to the area around Wague’s apartment — but that deadly smoke spewing through the open door spread throughout the high-rise.

The fire killed at least eight kids and nine adults and left more than 60 others injured, officials said.

Smoke from such a fire can be lethal.  According to CNN, “All 17 victims from a fire in a Bronx apartment building on Sunday died of smoke inhalation, according to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME).

The manner of death was determined to be an accident for them all, said OCME director of public affairs Julie Bolcer.

The determination comes after an electric space heater sparked a fire in a duplex unit, flooding the 19-story apartment building with smoke.

Several space heaters had been running for days inside the apartment where the deadly fire started, a fire official told CNN. The heaters, including the one that sparked the blaze, were discovered after firefighters sifted through the rubble, the official said. 

Fire officials said that the smoke was able to spread because the door of that apartment and the door from the stairwell to the 15th floor were left open, even though the doors were supposed to close automatically.

Eight of the victims were children, including a 2-year-old boy, two 5-year-old girls and a 6-year-old boy. Police released a full list of their names and ages:

Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, female; Foutmala Drammeh, 21, female; Muhammed Drammeh, 12, male; Nyumaaisha Drammeh, 19, female; Haji Dukary, 49, male; Fatoumata Dukureh, 5, female; Haja Dukureh, 37, female; Mariam Dukureh, 11, female; Mustapha Dukureh, 12, male; Omar Jambang, 6, male; Sera Janneh, 27, female; Haouwa Mahamadou, 5, female; Seydou Toure, 12, male; Fatoumata Tunkara, 43, female; Isatou Jabbie, 31, female; Hagi Jawara, 47, male; Ousmane Konteh, 2, male.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Most fire deaths are not caused by burns, but by smoke inhalation. Often smoke incapacitates so quickly that people are overcome and can’t make it to an otherwise accessible exit. The synthetic materials commonplace in today’s homes produce especially dangerous substances. As a fire grows inside a building, it will often consume most of the available oxygen, slowing the burning process. This “incomplete combustion” results in toxic gases.

Smoke is made of components that can each be lethal in its own way:

Particles: Unburned, partially burned, and completely burned substances can be so small they penetrate the respiratory system’s protective filters, and lodge in the lungs. Some are actively toxic; others are irritating to the eyes and digestive system.

Vapors: Foglike droplets of liquid can poison if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Toxic gases: The most common, carbon monoxide (CO), can be deadly, even in small quantities, as it replaced oxygen in the bloodstream. Hydrogen cyanide results from the burning of plastics, such as PVC pipe, and interferes with cellular respiration. Phosgene is formed when household products, such as vinyl materials, are burned. At low levels, phosgene can cause itchy eyes and a sore throat; at higher levels it can cause pulmonary edema and death.

In addition to producing smoke, fire can incapacitate or kill by reducing oxygen levels, either by consuming the oxygen, or by displacing it with other gases. Heat is also a respiratory hazard, as superheated gases burn the respiratory tract. When the air is hot enough, one breath can kill.

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