Mon, Aug 20, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Fire near site of Sept. 11 attacks kills two firemen

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

A multiple-alarm fire broke out on Saturday in New York's vacant Deutsche Bank skyscraper, killing two firefighters and injuring at least five others in the relic of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that was being dismantled.

The firefighters that were hospitalized had smoke-related injuries that were not believed to be life threatening. They were among 475 firefighters responding to the fire as 87 fire units poured into the area. The fire was brought under control about seven hours after it began.

The Deutsche Bank building has been empty since parts of the World Trade Center came crashing down into it nearly six years ago, leaving it severely damaged and filled with toxic debris, including asbestos, dioxin, lead and chromium.

The building, originally 41 stories, had been partially dismantled to 26 stories. Demolition and toxic substance abatement work inside the structure created obstacles for firefighters trying to reach the fire and put it out, authorities said.

The fire started on the 17th floor and quickly went out of control, fire officials said.

The building lacked working standpipes, which run through high-rise buildings to provide water for firefighters.

"This was a truly difficult fire," New York Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scopetta said. "We had to lift lines from the street with ropes in order to get up to the 17th floor."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the building, which was still in flames late into the evening, was structurally sound and not in danger of collapsing.

He said preliminary air-quality tests showed a rise in particulate matter but no hazardous contaminants, though he cautioned that results of more tests would not be available until this morning.

All civilians working in the building got out when the fire was reported at 3:36pm and there were no evacuations of adjacent buildings, the mayor said.

"Air quality and the environmental impact, as you might imagine, are a top concern to us and we are monitoring the situation very closely," the mayor said at a news conference on Saturday night.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, though officials ruled out acetylene torches, which were not in use on Saturday by workers dismantling the building. Investigators are looking into whether the fire was started by a worker smoking, an official said.

The two firefighters became trapped in the building and died of what appeared to be cardiac arrest resulting from exposure to carbon monoxide, Bloomberg said.

One was identified as Joseph Graffagnino, 34, of Brooklyn, who had been a firefighter for 8 years. The second firefighter was identified as Robert Beddia, 53, of Staten Island.

An official said he had been with the fire department 23 years and was the senior firefighter on the scene.

They were assigned to Engine 24 and Ladder 5 of Battalion 2, which are all housed together across from the Deutsche building. Eleven firefighters from that station house died on Sept. 11, 2001.

Graffagnino and the second firefighter were found on the 14th floor close to a hose line.

Bloomberg called the fire and the deaths of the firefighters "another cruel blow to our city and to the Fire Department, and specifically to the house that Engine 24, Ladder 5 and Battalion 2 are in."

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