This is from State Senator Liz Krueger’s Newsletter
The “Missing” Engine That Could
The world watched as a fire broke out at 524 East 72nd Street on October 11th after being hit by a small plane. They also watched as the fire was extinguished and they learned that only the pilot and co-pilot were killed. The F.D.N.Y. was appropriately praised for its valiant and timely response.
Did you know that the Engine Company responsible for putting out the fire on the 40th floor (where the plane hit) was scheduled to close a couple of years ago? Engine 44, located on East 75th Street, was first due at the fire. In fact, they were the only engine to arrive before the National Fire Protection Agency standard 6-minute response time. The next engine arrived a little over two minutes later.
Why does two minutes matter? Because fires double in size roughly every minute (and this was a very hot fire that spread to two floors almost instantly). Because, by the F.D.N.Y.’s own standards, they actually needed four engines to respond immediately to handle a fire of this size (later requiring many more companies). It was almost nine minutes before the fourth engine arrived. And, finally, because the National Institute of Standards and Technology has found that after a fire breaks out, people have approximately 3 minutes to escape before being overcome by heat and smoke. In the first national study of fire response records, the Boston Globe concluded that from 1986 through 2002, more than 4,000 people died in fires in which response time was greater than 6 minutes â€“ about five a week.
In turns out that only one of two nearby engines was available because the company on 85th Street was relocated to the Bronx. This is a frequent occurrence â€“ moving companies around to make sure all areas of the city have minimal coverage. There is nothing wrong with this practice, except that a minimal response is not always appropriate, like in the case of the plane crash. Indeed, the Upper East Side is the most densely populated neighborhood in New York and second in the world in population per acre (after downtown Tokyo). The fact that only one engine company responded within the national standard time is disturbing. The fact that it was a company that was scheduled to close is unbelievable.
That day, many people were reminded of the tragedy at the World Trade Center. By all accounts, Engine 44 did a truly amazing job and should certainly receive a Fire Department medal. We can only speculate on what would have happened if Engine 44 were not there. The fact that just a couple of people were in the apartments is something we cannot count on in future fire incidents. On the other hand, the location and availability of fire companies is within our control.
The Upper East Side community and itâ€™s elected officials (including myself, in the interests of full disclosure) rallied around Engine 44 when it was threatened with closing. Those who successfully fought its closing deserve our special thanks.