Monday, September 3, 2007

The Burnt-Out Deutsche Bank Building & the Gambino Family/Senior FDNY Chiefs Spent Weeks at Toxic Tower Before Fire

" ... The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC), a joint city/state agency, took ownership of the building in 2004, after the bank and its insurance companies resolved a lawsuit. The LMDC got assurances that the costs of demolishing the building would be covered and its extensive plans, which were supposed to keep the building’s toxic contents from escaping, were approved by a raft of agencies.

"LMDC appointed Bovis Lend Lease as the general contractor and hired the John Galt Corp. in 2006 to do the demolition, even though a number of other companies bid on the job. According to an Aug. 23 New York Times article. ... It was a shell corporation, created to allow others to do the job. Among those others were former executives from Safeway Environmental Corp., one of whom had been twice imprisoned and was identified by federal investigators as a Gambino crime family associate. ... "

Senior FDNY chiefs spent weeks at toxic tower before fire


4:01 PM EDT, August 31, 2007

No one has pinpointed exactly why fire inspectors failed for months to check the condemned ground zero skyscraper where firefighters encountered a maze of hazards and potential deathtraps when responding to a blaze two weeks ago.

But there is perhaps a greater mystery: Months before the Aug. 18 fire that killed two firefighters, numerous senior fire chiefs spent weeks at the demolition site and apparently never reported those conditions. The battalion chiefs were at the building to search for remains of Sept. 11 victims.

Now, those who played a role in the remains search are being questioned by investigators. Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned this week that the chiefs' judgement must be questioned.

"It's troublesome that there were a lot of senior fire officials that had come through that building when we were searching for remains," Bloomberg said. "They saw the kind of conditions that were in that building, and as far as I can tell so far, none of them brought it to anybody's attention."

A series of dangers existed in the former Deutsche Bank building before the blaze.

They include barricades in the stairwells, combustible debris strewn about, signs that workers routinely ignored the site's no-smoking rule and a tangle of polyurethane sheeting and other materials used to seal against asbestos and lead leakage.

The tower just steps from the World Trade Center site has been uninhabitable since it was pelted with flaming, toxic debris during the 2001 terror attack. Once 41 stories, it was being dismantled floor by floor.

Fire inspectors were required to check the building every 15 days and never did, investigators found. But meanwhile, numerous battalion chiefs were there nearly every day last spring as part of the city's renewed search for remains of Sept. 11 victims, Bloomberg said.

The Fire Department declined to identify those officials or make them available. Spokesman Frank Gribbon said the matter was under investigation.

According to a June 1 memo written by Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, updating Bloomberg on the remains operation, searchers had been in the building since March 15 and completed the job on May 29.

In addition to fire officials, the team typically included a forensic anthropologist, two people from the city medical examiner office, and a safety supervisor from the private contractor. Their assignment was to comb the lower floors of the building to look for bone fragments.

The building had long been condemned, but the city was searching it for remains again because hundreds of bone pieces had been found on the roof of the tower by workers before the demolition project began.

While the inside of thebuilding was being searched, teams were also digging up parts of the streets around the 16-acre trade center site to hunt for remains. That quest began after utility workers stumbled upon a cache of human bone fragments in a forgotten manhole, prompting a reexamination of the perimeter around ground zero.

At the former Deutsche Bank building, numerous fire officials were said to have worked in different shifts on those teams, spending hours amid the conditions that investigators now say likely worsened the fire earlier this month.

Firefighters who responded to the blaze quickly found that the inside of the building was nearly impossible to navigate. Barricades on the stairwells and among the floors made it easy to get disoriented or lost.

And as part of the asbestos containment operation, a system had been set up to create negative air pressure on some floors.

Officials believe this caused the fire to behave differently _ flames were quickly sucked downward instead of creeping up, which surprised firefighters who typically set up a base of operations a few floors under the point of origin.

With the odds already stacked against them, firefighters also couldn't get water out of the building's supply network known as its standpipe. Marshals later found pieces of it lying in the basement.

Bloomberg said Friday that the battalion chiefs who were there for the remains search would not have known about the standpipe problem, because they were not in the basement, but should have raised objections about the multitude of other problems.

Fire marshals have begun interviewing officials who played a role in the remains search at the Deutsche Bank, according to a person with direct knowledge of the remains operation.

Gribbon, the Fire Department spokesman, declined to say what investigators have learned and whether anyone will be reprimanded, but Bloomberg has warned of possible disciplinary action "up and down the chain of command."

Three other fire officials said to be responsible for the department's lack of a fire plan for the tower and its failure to inspect the building, including the standpipe, have already been relieved of their commands and reassigned to headquarters.

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