Elected officials joined thousands of muslim and West African mourners this past Sunday, Jan. 17, 2022, as funeral services for victims of the Twin Parks North West fire in the Bronx capped. The scale of the tragic fire, resulting in 17 deaths and 66 injured, prompted a further look into the building while U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, with other Bronx officials, put forth fire prevention laws.
“Bronx residents, just like every other New Yorker, have a fundamental right to feel safe and secure in their home,” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson in a statement. “In the wake of this horrific 5-alarm fire at Twin Parks North West, all levels of government came together to create comprehensive plans and legislation so this terrible tragedy could never happen again.”
Torres announced that the Bronx Fire Safety Task Force would push forward federal policy proposals that require automatic shutoff for space heaters and require all buildings to have self-closing doors, the two main causes of the fire that engulfed the Twin Parks building.
In 2021, there were 73 fire deaths total with 16 located in the Bronx, said the FDNY. Last year, there were 11 fires caused by space heaters but none were fatal. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that heating equipment is actually the “second-leading cause of U.S. home fires and the third-leading cause of home fire deaths and injuries.” NFPA called the Twin Parks tragedy “the second most deadly U.S. home fire” in nearly 40 years.
In a press conference on Sunday, Jan. 9, FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said that the fire started on the first two floors from a “malfunctioning” space heater. The door to that apartment, which should have been self-closing, was left open and smoke spread throughout the 19-floor, 120 unit building. There were smoke alarms in the building, said Nigro.
A representative for the property said the building didn’t have any known issues with the smoke alarms and it appeared that the fire alarm system worked as designed. The building was equipped with a sprinkler system in some areas, and is considered “non-combustible” because of its concrete poured ceilings and floors.
“Our community is still mourning and reeling at the aftermath of the devastating fire that took place last Sunday. This is a tragedy that did not need to happen. The conditions that lead to the fire were created by years of neglect by a landlord and the general disregard for the people who lived there,“ said Salim Drammeh, president of the Gambian Youth Organization, in a statement.
Residents said that not only was the heat inconsistent onsite, but that they desperately relied on small electrical space heaters available in the area that were certainly prone to malfunctioning because of the quality.
Last week, Torres, Mayor Eric Adams, and elected officials from the task force vowed to hold federally funded housing developments accountable for heating violations.
According to Department of Buildings (DOB) records, the building at 2180 Folin St. and 333 E 181 St. is owned by Bronx Park Phase III Preservation, LLC under the Camber Property Group. The building is federally funded and was built in 1972. It had several resolved or dismissed violations in the past related to construction sheds and elevators, but there were two specific violations pertaining to Class 1 DOB-ECB violations in December 2018 and August 2019 that could have had more to do with the building’s infrastructure. Common violations of this class and type usually include work without a permit, failure to maintain a building, illegal occupancy, electrical code issues or inadequate heating. Additionally, there were instances of violations where boiler and energy use reports were not filed dating all the way back to 2012.
The Amsterdam News reached out to the Camber Property Group for comments about the violations that may have created the circumstances for the fire to occur. A spokesperson for Bronx Park Phase said that there were 41 inherited city violations from prior ownership, 36 of which were cleared.
“We are devastated by this terrible tragedy and are cooperating fully with the Fire Department and other agencies as they continue to investigate,” said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson said that all doors in the building are self-closing, including stairwell and apartment doors, as required, and that there are no open violations or complaints related to self-closing doors at the property. According to the property management company, the apartment door where the fire originated was last checked and had a lock repaired on July 27, 2021. The Park Phase spokesperson also said that heating complaints, ranging from February 2021 to the present, involved three separate apartments. All four complaints were addressed and closed, according to HPD records.
“We are cooperating fully with FDNY and other city agencies as they continue the course of their investigation,” said the spokesperson.
The proposed federal law would also require the installation of heat sensors in certain federally funded housing, making it so that the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies get real-time heating sensor reports from apartments. “Today’s breakdown of the newly proposed federal legislation to require the installation of heat sensors is a necessary step towards providing every tenant basic rights, regardless of their race, gender, zip code, religion or immigration status,” said Gibson.
Adams called the situation “unacceptable” and said that he would work to protect tenants from heating-related harassment and abusive landlords, and would push locally for the deployment of heat sensor technology.
At least one co-owner of the Camber Property Group, Rick Gropper, was a member of Adams’ housing transition team. The Park Phase spokesperson implied that Gropper and Adams hadn’t made any likely interactions in the two Zoom meetings the housing group had, and that the transition committee ended once Adams took office and consisted of hundreds of people.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w