Is my building ready for fire?

Q: The recent tragic fire in the Bronx has many New Yorkers wondering about fire safety in their own buildings. What security measures ...


Q: The recent tragic fire in the Bronx has many New Yorkers wondering about fire safety in their own buildings. What security measures should be in place in an apartment building and how do residents ensure they have them?

A: New Yorkers were heartbroken last month when they learned fire in a building in the Bronx that killed 17 people, including eight children. Many were also afraid. The tragedy, caused by a faulty heater and exacerbated by faulty fire doors, exposed the risks of poor building maintenance.

We spoke with Jim Bullock, retired deputy chief of the New York City Fire Department and president of New York Fire Consultantsabout ways residents can keep tabs on their own buildings and ensure their homes are safe and up to code.

SIGNALING: Your landlord, co-op or condo board must provide you with a emergency preparedness guide, with details describing the construction of the building, fire protection systems and other safety details. Owners of buildings with three or more units are required to distribute the guides to all residents and post the fire evacuation plans on the inside of the entrance door of each apartment and in common areas.

This information will tell you whether or not your building is fireproof. “It determines exactly what to do in the event of a fire,” Mr Bullock said.

In a fireproof building, the contents of an apartment will burn but, for several hours, the structure will not burn. If a building is combustible, the fire can quickly move from apartment to apartment. Residents of fireproof buildings must shelter in place, as long as the fire is not inside their apartment. People living in flammable apartments should evacuate immediately.

All apartments should have two exits – your front door and an alternative, such as an emergency exit or an interior stairwell. Familiarize yourself with these routes.


FIRE DOORS: All buildings in New York City with three or more apartments must have self-closing entrance doors. Test yours periodically. Open the door about a third of the way and let go. If the door does not close and latch completely, it needs to be cleaned, repaired or replaced. Tell your super and the owner to fix the problem immediately. If they don’t respond, call 311 and report the conditions.

Doors to hallways and exits should also be self-closing and have signs reminding residents to keep them closed.

SMOKE DETECTOR: Building owners must provide tenants with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. But tenants should maintain them, check them monthly and replace the batteries twice a year. Never paint a detector.

FIRE GETAWAYS: Emergency exits must be clear of any obstruction. Periodically check the condition of yours. “It shouldn’t be rusty,” Mr Bullock said. “If it’s rusty, you have to paint it with two coats of paint.” Report any disturbing condition to management who must keep them in good working order.

CORRIDORS: No one can store bicycles or strollers in the corridors. Auxiliary furnituresuch as a small console or an umbrella bucket, is permitted.

COMMON RISKS: Your landlord must provide you with heat for hot season, from October to May. If it is too cold in your apartment, report it to 311. If you use a space heater, keep it one meter away from any flammable material, make sure it has a shut-off device automatic and check the cord for any signs of damage. Never leave candles or incense unattended. And never use an oven or stove to heat yourself.

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, register here. Follow us on twitter: @nytrealestate.



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