by: Adam Roberts
The January fire at Twin Parks Northwest, an apartment building in the Bronx, was among the worst in decades. 17 residents died tragically, apparently all from smoke inhalation. While investigations are still ongoing, it is evident that the fire started from a space heater, and that the smoke spread due to the failure of self-closing doors.
In the wake of these initial findings, architects and others saw how the deaths from the fire were entirely preventable. Self-closing doors have long been mandatory, while the dangers space heaters pose are well-established. Nevertheless, a lack of proper enforcement meant that Twin Parks Northwest had broken self-closing doors and a faulty heating system, which forced tenants to supplement with space heaters.
AIANY has spent the last few months talking with elected officials on these issues. Fortunately, the City Council has taken the recommendations of architects into consideration. On April 6, the City Council is holding a hearing on pieces of legislation to address the factors that led to the fire. Chief among them are bills increasing the strictness of requirements for self-closing doors and limiting the sale of space heaters.
In the long term, more legislative action is needed to make New York’s buildings safer, as a lack of enforcement and faulty heat continue to pose risks to all New Yorkers. Most critically, the NYC Department of Buildings must have greater funding for enforcement and buildings must transition to reliable electric heat. Moreover, fires and explosions caused by gas remain a grave concern. Fortunately, AIANY has succeeded in passing a city-wide ban on new gas hookups starting in 2027 and is currently pushing for a similar law for the entire state. We will keep our members updated as these and other related advocacy efforts progress.