ALBANY – Senate Democrats plan to pass a package of bills this week aimed at addressing issues raised by the deadly January fire that ripped through a Bronx apartment building and left 17 people dead.
The slate of 10 bills includes measures that would increase penalties for violations of building and fire code standards and require space heaters sold in New York to have thermostats and automatic shut-offs.
“My heart breaks for all of our neighbors we have lost to sweeping fires,” said Sen. Cordell Cleare (D-Harlem). “Use of space heaters to fight the winter chill is common, but today we take the necessary steps to ensure that the risks associated with these devices become incredibly uncommon.”
Investigators determined that a malfunctioning space heater that was left on for several days was to blame for the Jan. 9 blaze at the 19-story residential tower in Fordham Heights. Tenants complained that longstanding problems with the building’s heat led many to improvise to stay warm in the winter.
Cleare’s bill would ensure all space heaters distributed or sold to New Yorkers have thermostats and shut off automatically. Manufacturers will also have to prove the devices are verified by a testing and certification body recognized and approved by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Several other factors contributed to the devastation wrought by the Bronx fire, including shoddy smoke detectors and malfunctioning doors which allowed flames and smoke to escape the third floor apartment where it started.
The thick toxic clouds that spread and choked the halls and stairwells of the building led to the deaths of 17 people, including eight children, all of whom died of smoke inhalation.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), whose district includes the high rise, would increase fines for building and fire code violations as well as building owners who are willfully making a false certification that an issue has been corrected.
“It has been over thirty years since the penalties for housing standards were established in New York City, and since that time our community has experienced immense tragedy due to negligence and lack of adherence to these policies,” Rivera said. “While we can never remove the pain and suffering … we can do everything possible to prevent this tragedy from happening again.
“Our families deserve to live in safe and stable housing,” he added.
Another bill by Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) would increase fines for building code violations “which create an immediate threat to the safety and welfare of the building occupants.”
Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) noted New York’s long history of horrific fire deaths and the changes made following previous tragedies in a statement about the new package of bills.
“There are few disasters more personal, terrifying, and life-altering than fires,” Stewart-Cousins said. “New York’s painful history on this issue – from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to the recent Bronx fire – galvanizes us to do more to help save lives.
“These measures will improve the safety of all New York housing and protect families,” she added.