Report: City Code Officials Ignored Firefighter Warnings About Fire Hazards

Despite repeated warnings from firefighters about violations at a building in Schenectady, New York, city code officials did nothing. Four people died, and dozens more were injured in the blaze.

Communication Breakdown. City code officials apparently failed to take fire dept warning seriously. Photo: Pete Barber, The Daily Gazette

Here’s the story, as reported by Steven Cook at The Daily Gazette:

The Schenectady City Fire Department filed a total of 14 reports with the city codes department regarding 104 Jay St. in the two years that preceded a fatal fire there — reports that apparently were ignored, according to a new report released Monday.

The fire department’s reports focused on issues that were central to the fire’s spread and residents’ response to the March 6, 2015 blaze, according to a Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office statement issued Monday.

The violations noted the lack of fire doors in stairwells, inoperable smoke alarms and concerns about the building’s fire alarm box and residents’ efforts to silence it, according to the DA’s report.

One report, issued by a fire lieutenant on March 1, 2014 — one year before the fire that killed four residents — stated: “Building poses numerous hazards that can/will be fatal to its occupants and EMS.”

The building and codes department acknowledged receipt of each of the reports but saw them as advisories, handing them off to individual inspectors. The department had no method of recording them or the results of any resulting inspections, and no reported actions were taken regarding the warnings.

The DA’s report was compiled by the Schenectady County grand jury that investigated the fatal fire, beginning in late 2016. That grand jury returned indictments against building manager Jason Sacks and city inspector Kenneth Tyree.

The report adds that firefighters ultimately gave up on getting help from the city:

“Firefighters testified that the absence of any remedial action for the conditions they complained about discouraged them from continuing to file (the reports) in relation to 104 Jay St.,” the report states.

After “dozens and dozens” of false alarms there, the city also did nothing to enforce a code that allowed fees to be assessed against owners for persistent alarms.

“The multiplicity of these false alarms contributed to tenant indifference to danger and directly led to tenants accessing the fire alarm panel box and silencing the alarm without knowledge of how to reset the system,” the release reads.

Read the complete article in The Daily Gazette.