Is My Apartment Building Ready for Fire?

The Four Percent


Q: The recent tragic fire in the Bronx has left many New Yorkers wondering about fire safety in their own buildings. What safety measures should be in place in an apartment building, and how do residents make sure they have them?

A: New Yorkers were heartbroken last month when they learned of the fire in a Bronx apartment building that left 17 dead, including eight children. Many were also scared. The tragedy, caused by a faulty space heater and exacerbated by malfunctioning fire doors, exposed the risks of poor building maintenance.

We spoke with Jim Bullock, a retired deputy chief of the New York City Fire Department and the president of New York Fire Consultants, about ways that residents can keep an eye on their own buildings and make sure their homes are safe and up to code.

SIGNAGE: Your landlord, co-op or condo board must provide you with an emergency preparedness guide, with details describing the building’s construction, fire protection systems and other safety details. Owners of buildings with at least three units are required to distribute the guides to all residents, and to post fire escape plans on the interior side of each apartment entrance door and in common areas.

FIRE DOORS: All New York City buildings with three or more apartments must have self-closing front doors. Test yours periodically. Open the door about a third of the way and let go. If the door does not close and latch completely, then it needs to be cleaned, repaired or replaced. Tell your super and the landlord to address the issue immediately. If they do not respond, call 311 and report the conditions.

Hallway and exit doors must also be self-closing and have signs reminding residents to keep them closed.

SMOKE DETECTORS: Building owners must provide tenants with working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. But tenants must maintain them, checking them monthly and replacing the batteries twice a year. Never paint over a detector.

FIRE ESCAPES: Fire escapes must be free of obstructions. Check the condition of yours periodically. “It shouldn’t be rusted,” Mr. Bullock said. “If it’s rusted, it should be painted with two coats of paint.” Report any worrisome conditions to management, which must keep them in good working order.

HALLWAYS: No one may store bicycles or strollers in the hallways. Incidental furniture, like a small console table or a bucket for an umbrella, is permitted.

COMMON HAZARDS: Your landlord must provide you with heat during heat season, from October through May. If your apartment is too cold, report the condition to 311. If you do use a space heater, keep it three feet from any flammable material, make sure it has an automatic shut-off feature, and check the cord for signs of damage. Never leave candles or incense unattended. And never use an oven or stove for heat.

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