On January 9, 2022, a high-rise apartment building in the Bronx caught fire. 17 people, including children, were killed and dozens more were injured, making this one of the worst residential fires in the United States’ recent history.
Investigators discovered that the cause of the fire was a defective space heater in a unit on the third floor. And while the fire was largely limited to the single apartment unit, two malfunctioning fire doors caused smoke to spread throughout the entire building, affecting residents on all 19 floors. All deaths were due to smoke inhalation.
There were several key factors in why the NYC Bronx fire claimed so many lives and injured so many people. If the building had up-to-date systems in place with proper maintenance, service and inspections to ensure that they were fully functional, then this severe tragedy could have been potentially prevented.
Also, had the building owners invested in more passive fire protection systems like fire and smoke curtains, residents could have had more time to safely evacuate the building through protected exit routes, resulting in fewer casualties and injuries.
Self-Closing Doors Were Inoperable
The key to successful evacuations lies in the protection of all paths of egress from flames and smoke. Building components such as fire doors, fire-rated walls and smoke curtains prevent fire and smoke from spreading and keep exit routes clear for safe egress. When these safety components are obstructed or compromised, smoke spreads rapidly, disorienting occupants and preventing them from reaching safety.
During the Bronx 2022 fire, the door to the apartment malfunctioned and did not close behind the fleeing occupants. There was another stairwell fire door on the 15th floor that also did not automatically close, creating a flue effect that rapidly accelerated the spread of smoke throughout the building.
The malfunction of these safety doors directly led to the number of casualties and injuries due to smoke inhalation and prevented most occupants from safely evacuating the building.
Self-closing apartment doors have been a part of the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code for decades. All buildings that meet the definition of an apartment building are required to have self-closing entry doors with no exceptions. All other fire doors are also required to either be self-closing, automatic-closing or power-operated.
Had the fire doors been properly serviced and maintained, the smoke likely would not have overwhelmed the apartment complex, and there may not have been so many injuries and lives lost.
The Bronx apartment fire is a key example of why it is better to be over-prepared when it comes to life safety protection. Fire doors can malfunction or be too easily propped open, which renders them ineffective. Smoke safety solutions like smoke curtains are tamper-proof, cannot be obstructed and are a great addition to any building’s passive fire protection system.
In 2019 and 2021, the New York Housing Authority performed inspections on the apartment complex in 12 of the 120 units. During these inspections, it was discovered that multiple apartment units were missing or had broken smoke and carbon dioxide detectors.
Multiple tenants also reported that they had grown accustomed to false fire alarms. As a result, at the time of the fire, they believed that there was no real fire or need to evacuate until they actually witnessed the smoke.
Smoke detectors play a pivotal role in active fire protection systems. Early detection alerts tenants to get to safety before the situation escalates. If they are unaware that there is a fire until they see or smell smoke, it may be too late.
Both local and federal fire codes require smoke and fire detection systems. These systems need to be regularly checked and maintained to guarantee they will work properly in an emergency.
Lack of Sprinkler Systems
The Bronx apartment building did not have any sprinkler system. The code states that if there are no sprinklers, then there needs to be a passive fire protection system in place. Considering how fast the smoke was able to spread and the state of their other safety equipment, this building likely did not have passive fire protection either.
Even if the building did have a sprinkler system, however, it would not have kept the smoke from traveling between the floors — especially with the inoperable fire doors. The sprinkler system on the third floor would have been triggered by the heat and activated, but the smoke would have still traveled beyond the open fire doors, into the stairwell and up to the top floor.
Following the ever-evolving codes is a very expensive and time-consuming endeavor for building owners. Because of this, many older buildings aren’t up to date with the latest code-compliant equipment or have been granted exemptions. This makes it even more critical that the systems that are in place are kept maintained and in good working order.
Passive Fire Protection Solutions
It is best to be over-prepared for an emergency, even if it is not legally required. A building owner should consider the fire code as the minimum amount of protection that their building should have. There are also easy and effective solutions for bringing outdated or neglected buildings up-to-date and making them compliant with all the necessary fire codes.
Whether you are trying to plan the safety system of a new building or are looking to update an existing structure to meet safety codes, smoke and fire curtains make the perfect addition to any building’s passive fire protection.
Smoke and fire curtains offer much more protection than traditional fire doors. Additionally, one of the benefits of fire curtains is that they cannot be held or propped open like fire doors. If something is in the path of the curtain, it drapes around it.
Smoke curtains remain tucked away when not in use, so they are virtually tamper-proof. They also utilize gravity to drop and will deploy in an emergency — even if the power has been shut off.
SG Specialties offers a range of smoke guard fire and smoke curtains, and our experts are dedicated to creating and maintaining ground-breaking fire safety solutions to prevent tragedies like the Bronx apartment fire.
For more information on how today’s technology can help bring your building up to code and increase the effectiveness of your existing safety system, contact us today.