The risk of towering infernos: Supertall buildings proliferating in NYC create serious fire dangers

Retired FDNY Deputy Chief Thomas Dunne discusses some of the dangers that come from the spate of new high-rises in New York City in the New York Daily News. Some of his observations are quoted below.

“A fire in a high-rise building is a special kind of animal. As a deputy chief with the New York City Fire Department, I had to overcome a number of challenges even when faced with a normal high-rise building.

Whenever the fire was on an upper floor, it was far more difficult to get firefighters up to the location of the fire and more challenging to remove or protect the building residents. Communications were often difficult and the logistical problems of providing an adequate supply of water and fresh personnel were more taxing.”

“Of course, building height is also a factor in determining how long it would take for residents to evacuate. Post-9/11 studies of the World Trade Center tragedy indicate that it took up to a minute per floor for survivors to walk down the stairs and reach the street level. If you do the math, you can get a sense of how long it could take to get all the occupants of a supertall building to safety, or possibly how much time it might be before rescue personnel get access to a fire on an upper floor.

To those who would argue that such scenarios are unlikely, I would counter that the lessons of 9/11 are too soon forgotten. We must consider worst-case scenarios and be prepared to handle them. And a worst-case scenario in an ultra-high building would present enormous challenges, and dangers, for our firefighters.”

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