By Joseph Turco, Esq.
Greenwich Village/Westbeth artist Joyce Rezendes, who resided in London in the late 1960s, often compares its Kensington district to Greenwich Village. Of the Grenfell Tower fire, which occurred on June 14th, Rezendes recalls: “We protested the construction of those tall buildings back then because they were so out of place in Kensington.” Another tenant says, “It’s sad and what’s worse [is that] it was probably preventable.” New York City landlord Ken Friedman agrees that fires the size of Grenfell’s are preventable and that fire safety is paramount. Most landlords and tenants with whom I spoke believed their own buildings to be safe. Rezendes, for instance, is comfortable with her own building’s safety and knows her way to the stairs in the dark. But is that all there is to it?
The investigation in London is just beginning. However, we can probably assume that the inquest will find that building owners violated numerous fire safety regulations and that greed won out over safety. How, for example, did that building seem to burn like a pile of dry newspapers and oily rags? Easily combustible building materials will surely be a culprit, but what can an individual resident do? Fire ladders generally only reach seven or eight stories, and since many buildings are taller than that in Greenwich Village, here are some quick reminders for residents in tall buildings:
1. Know the plan. Make sure you know your building’s evacuation plan, which should be posted for all to see. That escape plan should be practiced once a year in the form of a building-wide fire drill in which all residents participate. If it feels like a silly elementary school drill, too bad. Studies show that fire drills save lives. If you’re not having fire drills in your building, WestView News wants to know about it.
2. Should I stay or should I go? Conventional wisdom says that you should stay put on upper floors during a fire because it will be contained and fire rescue personnel will eventually reach you. The Grenfell tragedy has put this advice into a stark new light. Surely, if you’re on a high floor and your building has a working sprinkler system, then staying put is still the “go-to” advice, along with sealing your door cracks with wet towels (to keep out smoke), huddling near a window (as long as smoke is not entering from outside), and notifying 911 of your exact location in the building.
However, if your building does not have a sprinkler system and you’re on the fifth floor or above, yours is a trickier decision. Where’s your fire escape? Is there too much smoke in the hallways for you to get out without succumbing? How close are you to an interior stairway? Is that a safe way down at this time? All of these, and more, are split-second decisions, which is why reviewing them several times a year is a good idea.
3. What should I always do? Always keep both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in every room and check their batteries regularly. Always keep the interior stairwells clear and their doors closed. Always know your escape route. Always stay low during the escape to decrease smoke inhalation.
4. What should I never do? Never open a door that is warm to the touch. Never prop open a self-closing fire door. Never use an elevator during a fire.
A fire like the one that broke our hearts in West London can also have a positive, transforming effect. All of the landlords and tenants with whom I’ve spoken since Grenfell are united on this non-partisan issue of fire safety, fire drills, safe hallways, and good working equipment.
Thank you to the National Fire Protection Association, Retired Chief Vincent Tuccillo, and the FDNY for the information contained in these tips. For more information, dial 311 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.