Responding to Deutsche Bank Fire Tragedy, Law Will Prohibit Simultaneous Occurrence of Building Demolition and Asbestos Abatement
City Hall, November 30, 2009 – Following the tragic Deutsche Bank Fire that took the lives of New York City Firefighters Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia, the City Council will vote on the twelfth and final piece of construction, demolition, and abatement overhaul legislation at today’s Stated Council Meeting. This legislation would prohibit simultaneous demolition and asbestos abatement activities within the same building.
The Council will also vote on legislation that would:
Improve public safety and deter vandalism by requiring that certain city businesses only install see-through security gates in front of commercial store fronts; and
Protect the City’s water supply by requiring building owners to install backflow prevention devices as necessary.
DEMOLITION AND ASBESTOS ABATEMENT BILL
Raising construction safety standards across the city, the Council will vote to prohibit simultaneous demolition and asbestos abatement activities within the same building. Demolition activities increase fire risk and asbestos containment structures may impede firefighters’ access to areas of the building when this work is done simultaneously. Specifically, this bill prohibits concurrent demolition and asbestos abatement unless the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has made a site-specific determination, in consultation with the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Fire Department (FDNY), that both demolition and abatement can be done safely. This law would take effect 180 days after enactment.
Today’s bill is the last of twelve bills written in response to the tragic 2007 Deutsche Bank Fire that took the lives of two New York City firefighters. The investigation revealed multiple regulatory gaps that increased the likelihood of fire during construction, demolition, and asbestos abatement activities.
“Taken together, these twelve measures represent a significant overhaul of the City’s demolition and asbestos abatement procedures,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “While these laws take us a tremendous step forward in making sure that conditions in this industry never lead to another event like the one that took the lives of Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia, our work to create the safest conditions for both site workers and first responders does not end today. Working together with the Administration and the construction industry, we will continue to raise the standard for construction safety across our ever-growing city in the most responsible and vigilant way possible.”
“This law was generated from expert testimony at hearings of the Council’s Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee, proving once again that the legislative branch of government has a role to play in making sure that livability and safety come first in the rebuilding of downtown,” said Council Member Alan J. Gerson, sponsor of the bill. “In fact, the whole City gains from our experience.”
Since May of this year, the Council has passed and the Mayor has signed eleven other construction and demolition site safety bills which:
Improve inter-agency coordination and information between DEP, DOB, and FDNY
Establish an asbestos abatement permit program and enhance abatement safeguards
Incorporate a ban on smoking at construction and demolition sites into the City’s building code
Require DEP to guide environmental contractors on how to maintain entrances/exits at abatement sites
Prohibit smoking on any floor of a building where asbestos abatement activities are taking place and prohibit the carrying of tobacco, matches and lighters in the most sensitive areas of abatement jobs
Require site safety managers to conduct daily checks of standpipes and weekly tracing of the system at construction and demolition sites and maintain records of visits
Establish uniform color coding of standpipe and sprinkler systems for ease of identification
Require a master plumbing or master fire-suppression license and a permit to cut and cap standpipes or sprinklers during demolition projects and establish a procedure for granting a variance to remove a damaged or inoperable sprinkler systems
Improve permitting standards for demolition projects by requiring a registered design professional to submit a detailed plan for the demolition when the project includes the use of mechanical equipment
Require the use of air-pressurized alarm systems for dry standpipes during construction or demolition
Require new or altered sprinkler systems in buildings to undergo successful hydrostatic pressure testing by a licensed master plumber or licensed fire suppression piping contractor.
ROLL DOWN GATES
To deter vandalism and improve quality of life on New York City streets, the Council will vote to require that certain city businesses only install partially transparent security gates in front of commercial store fronts. Used to secure commercial premises, many businesses utilize opaque security gates that are easily vandalized and block the view of the store’s interior This bill would require that after July 1, 2011, a roll down gate would have to allow at least 70% of the area covered by the gate to be visible.
“This bill not only helps first responders when they are called to protect our businesses, but it carries the additional benefit of beautifying our city’s landscape,” said Public Safety Committee Chair Peter Vallone, Jr. “Currently, many of our vibrant blocks quickly transform into dark, graffiti-strewn metal alleyways when solid security gates are rolled down at night. We are now giving business owners a new tool to improve their communities at their own pace.”
This bill applies to Occupancy Group B buildings such as banks, beauty salons, copy shops and Occupancy Group M buildings such as retail stores, drug stores, and department stores. By July 1, 2026, all of such businesses that have security gates must comply with these new visibility requirements.
Furthermore, the Department of Buildings would be required to develop an outreach program to alert affected businesses, development corporations, chambers of commerce, and community boards of the new requirements. A violation of this law would carry a penalty of $250 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. Between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2026, business owners would not be penalized for non-conforming gates if they correct the violation within 90 days or demonstrate that the gate was installed prior to July 1, 2011. After July 1, 2026, an owner can avoid a penalty if the non-conforming gate is replaced in 90days. This law would take effect on January 1, 2010.
BACKFLOW WATER LEGISLATION
Protecting the City’s water supply, the Council will vote to require building owners whose plumbing systems are at risk of water backflow into public or private water mains to correct any malfunctions and provide documentation to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that a backflow prevention device has been installed or replaced.
Additionally, this legislation would require:
Licensed professionals to certify and submit plans to DEP that black flow prevention devices are incompliance with agency standards;
DEP to notify owners of buildings requiring backflow prevention devices;
DEP to submit reports to the Council detailing the number of hazardous facilities and facilities which required backflow prevention devices to be installed.
Backflow of non-potable water or other substances may take place when water flows in the opposite direction than that intended because a potable system is connected to a non-potable supply under higher pressure than the distribution system as a result of a pump, boiler or elevation difference.