Massive blaze at apartment building in New York underscores critical importance of an educated public

Last week, a massive blaze at six-story apartment building in Queens, NY displaced approximately 240 residents and injured six people. According to Daniel Nigro, commissioner of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), the door to the apartment unit where the fire began had not been closed when the resident exited, a misstep that contributed to the fire’s rapid spread.

"The door was open," Commissioner Nigro said. "The occupant fled, left the door open. We've stressed over the years the seriousness of that if you do unfortunately have a fire in your home or apartment, how important it is to close that door. The fire (traveled) out to the hallway, the units were unable to make a quick advance."

Much research has been done in recent years underscoring this point, including fire tests by Underwriters Laboratories which show that closing doors upon exiting a fire can make a substantive difference in slowing its spread.

Nigro also noted that a delay in calling 911 furthered the fire’s spread and the damage incurred. According to an FDNY video posted on the department’s Facebook page, residents smelled smoke and smoke alarms were sounding, but no one called the fire department for 10 minutes. This delayed response reflects a complacency around fire that can lead to devastating outcomes.

In a broader context, incidents like this reinforce the critical importance of the NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem, a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. If any component is missing or broken, the Ecosystem can collapse. In this incident, an educated public – one of the eight components of the Ecosystem – wasn’t in place and directly contributed to the magnitude of the fire and the damage it incurred.

NFPA offers a wealth of public education resources that address the fundamentals of home escape planning and practice, including the importance of promptly responding to the sound of smoke alarms and the smell of smoke. We also have a safety tips sheet that provides specific guidance for people who live in apartment buildings and high-rise structures.

Share this information with your communities to help ensure that people know what to do in a fire situation and have the skills to help minimize the extent of a fire’s impact on people and property.

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Susan McKelvey
Communications Manager

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