Good morning. Today is Monday. On the first anniversary of the Twin Parks fire that killed 17 people in the Bronx, we’ll look back through the eyes of someone who lived down the hall where the fire started. We’ll also see how western New York deals with its grief as it prepares to bury more than 40 victims of last month’s blizzard.
Credit… Stephanie Keith for The New York Times
Karen Dejesus says she will be returning to the building where she spent a third of her life for the first time in almost a year. A building with a heater in an apartment down the hall caught fire with dense, suffocating smoke emanating from the stairs, killing 17.
“I can’t say I’m going to get through this,” he told me after describing the fire in the 19-story Twin Parks North West building with words like “tragedy”, “catastrophic”, “heartbreaking” and “unimaginable”. one year ago. “People I know have lost their lives. I saw them every day – guys. Those of us who are still here should go back and pay our respects.”
On the first anniversary of the fire, commemorations will be held in the long-exiled building for West Africans moving to New York. My colleague Jeffery C. Mays writes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has drawn up a national plan to address “America’s fire problem.”
Under federal law President Biden signed last month, the United States Fire Administration, a unit of FEMA, will have the authority to determine the causes of fires similar to those in Twin Parks. The agency can also identify buildings with similar problems and make recommendations.
The fire highlighted how low-income and migrant communities were disproportionately exposed to the dangers of fire. A New York Times investigation revealed that the deaths were preventable: No one died from the fire itself. Investigators believe that due to faulty self-closing doors, the building has become a smokestack spreading to the upper floors.
Like many apartments in New York, Twin Parks North West lacked potentially life-saving systems such as the fountain. Legislation passed in 1992, 20 years after the Twin Parks tower opened, mandates them in new multi-family buildings. But the Fire Department says the roughly 570,000 multi-family housing units dating back to the 1992 law are still occupied and “a significant portion” lack sprinklers.
The fire department also says the chance of dying in a fire in the United States is higher than it was 40 years ago.
Also worrying is the increase in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, especially for e-bikes. New York City Fire Department officials reported that in the first 11 months of 2022, battery fires killed six and injured 140, 87 more lithium-ion battery fires than in the entirety of 2021. The Daily News reported last month that firefighters found an e-bike battery in the apartment where the Twin Parks fire started. Added to the smoke, the newspaper said.
The Fire Department’s new investigative powers will not be retroactive, so it will not look at the Twin Parks fire. Daniel Madrzykowski, research director of the UL Fire Safety Research Institute, said other communities will benefit from the concerns that come with the fire. He said local investigators often focus on finding the cause of a fire. He said the federal government could focus on why a fire was so deadly.
Dejesus said that sounds like a good idea. “Yes, the government needs an investigation so there is no other fire,” he said. “Because I know the tragedy.”
But Dejesus, who moved because the solid was “uninhabitable” and now lives in another building in the South Bronx, wondered if the new federal provisions would suffice.
“We have firefighters or something,” he said. “Maybe once every two months, one of these places can come out and tour the building. How long will it take, an hour, an hour and a half, starting at the top and going down.” And he said, “Make sure if they open the door, the door will close automatically.”
“I know a lot of doors didn’t close when we lived there,” he told me. “The unit I live in may have, on a good day, closed the door behind us – or not. I think inspectors should have more inspectors and be more diligent about people’s lives. We live below the poverty level. That doesn’t mean our lives aren’t valuable.”
Prepare for rain and snow in temperatures near the mid-40s. It’s mostly clear in the evening with temperatures around the mid-30s.
PARKING ON THE ALTERNATIVE SIDE
Effective until January 16 (Martin Luther King’s Birthday).
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Buffalo struggling to recover
Western New York is awash in unimaginable grief as it prepares to bury more than 40 victims of the Christmas week blizzard. In and around Buffalo, where wild winter weather is a fact of life, people still don’t understand how the area is so unprepared.
My colleagues Hurubie Meko and Lola Fadulu write that roads in and around Buffalo have been plowed and schools have reopened. But people are still in collective despair to find out how to support their neighbors and friends who lost their relatives in the storm. Some froze to death in their cars or homes, or on snow-covered sidewalks where they could not move. Some died when emergency medical services were delayed. One person was poisoned by carbon monoxide formed in his home. The 3-year-old girl drowned in the pool of a hotel where her family took shelter. The body of a victim was found in a tent.
The new year has not been easier emotionally. It started with the news that five young children had died in a house fire on New Year’s Eve. Then Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills collapsed on the field and suffered a heart attack during a “Monday Night Football” game in Cincinnati.
In the Buffalo area, the storm was particularly difficult for Black residents. More than half of the storm victims were Black, but Blacks only make up about 14 percent of the population in Erie County, which includes Buffalo. The storm came after 10 Blacks were murdered by a racist gunman at a supermarket in East Buffalo last spring.
“We really have no chance of recovery,” said Vivian Robinson, a Christian pastor at the City Department of Spirit of Truth. “When will we have that moment just to breathe?”
I was on my way to a physical therapy appointment. When I got there, I encountered a woman standing by the elevator bench in the lobby.
The elevator door opened and I got in. The woman got on after me. I pressed the button for the 14th floor and it asked me to press the button for the 16th floor.
He then asked me if I would go with him to the 16th floor and then go down to the 14th floor.
Thinking he was in a hurry, I said of course, but since I had already pressed 14, the elevator would have stopped there anyway.
He explained that he was extremely claustrophobic and would not ride the elevators alone.
Of course I said I would come with him.
The door closed and there we were.
“So how’s your day going?” he asked.
“Pretty good,” I replied.
He started laughing and kept telling me the origins of elevator claustrophobia – something about getting an MRI – until I was 14.
I didn’t get off, the door closed and we went until 16, he got off and thanked me for coming with him.
I thanked him for asking.
Drawn by Agnes Lee. Submit applications here and Read the rest of the Metropolitan Diary here .
I’m glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
PS Here is today’s Short Puzzle and Spelling Contest . You can find all our puzzles here. .
Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].