Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New York Times Archive, WTC Fires 1971-1980

World Trade Center

Trade Center Fire Brings Complaints From City Firemen, February 20, 1971

The 30th blaze in 14 months at the Port Authority's World Trade Center broke out early yesterday and brought sharp criticism from the heads of two firemen's associations.

The fire raged out of control for nearly 40 minutes in construction materials in th second through fifth subbasements of the 110-story north tower of the twin-towered center

A fire official said that firemen were hampered by a lack of ventilation in getting down to the seat of the fire in the subbasements, which go to a depth of six stories below street level. The fire was declared under control at 1:13 A.M.

"It was a serious ventilatiion problem," the fire official said. "In a case like this there are no windows to break to clear out the smoke, and it just accumulates."

Capt. Raymond W. Gimmler, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said later:

"In the immediate future, this building complex will be occupied by tens of thousands of people whose lives will be in jeopardy.

"I recommend that a commission be appointed by the Mayor, which would include high-ranking representatives of the Fire Department, to study and make recommendations to protect the public from the inherent hazards of these high rise and underground death traps."

And Michael Maye, head of the Uniformed Firefighters Association charged that in recent construction of office and apartment buildings "there is too much emphasis on beauty and not enough on safety."

2-Alarm Blaze in Trade Center Fills South Tower With Smoke, April 9, 1972

A two-alarm fire in a subbasement of the south tower of the World Trade Center sent clouds of black smoke billowing into the lobby, elevator shafts and corridors of the world's tallest building late yesterday afternoon.

No injuries were reported.

The first alarm was sounded at 5:35 p.m. and the second 19 minutes later. The fire was declared under control at 6:50 p.m.

Fifteen pieces of equipment, the superpumper and two fireboats were sent to the scene. The 80 firemen who fought the stubborn blaze were supervised by Cheif John T. O'Hagan, who heads the Fire Department's uniformed force.

The cause of the fire was not known, but fire officials said it had started in a workmen's shanty in the subbasement where cylinders of propane gas were stored.

The fire officials said that hydrants in the immediate vicinity of the tower on the lower western tip of Manhattan were not working. Water to fight the blaze was pumped from the Hudson River by the two fireboats. The 110-story building is 125 feet from the river's edge. Still under construction, the building is partially occupied by tenants. A skeleton crew of contruction men was working there yesterday.

Fire officials said last night that they did not know why no water could be obtained from the hydrants, but were investigating.

Because it was a Saturday, there were few people in the area and traffic was not seriously dislocated. Some of the dense smoke seeped into a station of the PATH Railroad that connects Manhattan and New Jersey, but the commuter service was not disrupted.

'Smoke-Purge' System at World Trade Center Passes Test of Fire, January 13, 1973

A small fire at the World Trade Center put the downtown complex's special "smoke purge system" to the test yesterday afternoon, and it worked, belching smoke out of the South Tower of the 110-story building and causing alarm in the neighborhood.

Actually, the fire was confined to construction materials outside the tower and in three underground levels between the tower and the West Side Highway. There were no injuries.

The blaze broke out about 4:45 P.M. and was quickly contained by firemen, who threaded their way through a maze of forms for pouring concrete and what one fireman described as "an underground lumberyard."

Within 10 minutes of the fire's discovery, engineers activeated the special purge system, which uses the center's ventilation system to draw in fresh air and blow smoke through ducts on the mechanical-equpiment floors at the seventh-story and 41st-story levels.

Fire in World Trade Tower, May 25, 1973

Air-Conditioning Role in Fires Studied, July 2, 1974, by Peter Kihss,

"Air-conditioning systems can also be used to help fight fires, Robert J. Thompson, assistant director of engineering services for the National Fire Potection Association, said in Boston. This technique, he said, would use the system in reverse to draw off air from a fire area and contain it.

"The twin 110-story towers of the World Trade Center incorporated such a "smoke purge system" in its design, the Port of New York Authority said yesterday. The plan decrease air presssure in the area of any fire, while pressurizing other areas and stairways by which people may be evacuated."

Ann Medina, ABC News:
"There should have been fire stops to prevent it from spreading, but there weren't. The fire spread to six other floors. There also was no sprinkler system in the building. Instead, the World Trade Center relies on the typical fire hoses, even on the 85th floor."

Office worker 1:
"Of course it's a trap. How are you going to get down from the 62nd floor? Or even higher up?"

Office worker 2:
"These fires are supposed to be held at one floor, and that fire spread, like, up to the 19th, and we can smell it all the way up to the's, naturally, creepy."

Trade Center Hit By 6-Floor Fire, Feb 14 1975, page 41

Blaze Starts on the 11th -- 16 Men Are Injured

A three-alarm fire broke out in the 11th-floor offices of the B.F. Goodrich Company in the north tower of the World Trade Center just before midnight last night, and spread through an inner-services core to the ninth and 14th floors.

"It was like fighting a blow torch," according to Capt. Harold Kull of Engine Co. 6, who said all of his men "got their necks and ears burned" trying to get into the 11th Floor hall from a stairwell. None of the firemen were seriously injured.

Mainly on One Floor

The fire appeared to be confined primarily to 11th-floor office equipment, according to Deputy Assistant Fire Chief Homer Bishop. The damage to the service core was apparently confined to electrical wiring in and near the core.

The building is not equipped with a fire sprinkler system.

A total of 24 pieces of firefighting apparatus and 132 firemen fought the fire. Sixteen firemen were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

To reach the fire, the men boarded a freight elevator to the ninth floor, attached hoses to standpipes in stairwells on the 10th floor then advanced on the fire. Flames could be seen pouring out of 11th-floor windows on the east side of the building.

Fifty people, mostly maintenance men, were evacuated.

New York City's new fire code for office towers requires that floors lacking sprinkler systems be divided into units no larger than 7,500 square feet unless buildings posses special fire detection devices.

The new fire laws also requires smoke-detection systems that in the event of a fire will shut down the air-conditioning system, which can spread smoke and gases through the building, and return all elevators to the lobby floor.

The elevator provision is intended to override heat-sensitive buttons elevator call-buttons which can summon elevators to fire floor as happened in 1970 at One New York Plaza and 919 Third Avenue, where a total of five deaths in two buildings were elevator-related. It was after those fires that the new fire law was enacted.

Fire Commissioner John T. O'Hagan has stated that he considers sprinkler systems, which are activated by high temperatures, to be the most effective means of fire-fighting in high-rise buildings.

"I'd sleep a lot better at night if the World Trade Center had sprinklers," he commented recently while discussing the plausibility of skyscraper fire such as that depicted in the current film, "The Towering Inferno."

Sprinklers Urged for Trade Center, February 15, 1975, by Mary Breasted

Fire Commissioner John T. O'Hagan said yesterday that he would make a vigorous effort to have a sprinkler system installed in the World Trade Center towers as a consequence of the fire that burned for three hours in one of them early yesterday morning.

The towers, each 110 stories tall and the highest structures in the city, are owned and operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is not subject to local safety codes.

As Commissioner O'Hagan stood in the sooty puddles of the North Tower's 11th-floor hallway, he told reporters that the fire would not have spread as far as it did if sprinklers had been installed there.

The fire spread throughout about half the offices of the floor and ignited the insulation of telephone cables in a cable shaft that runs vertically between floors. Commissioner O'Hagan said that the absence of fire-stopper material in gaps around the telephone cables had allowed the blaze to spread to other floors within the cable shaft. Inside the shaft, it spread down to the ninth floor and up to the 16th floor, but the blaze did not escape from the shaft out into rooms or hallways on the other floors.

The fire prevention and containment equipment now in the towers -- comprising internal water pumps and smoke detection systems -- have long been considered inadequate by Commissioner O'Hagan. He said yesterday that he had attempted to persuade Port Authority officials that they must take additional fire-prevention measures in the towers and that about a month ago the officials promised him they would invest $5-million in safety improvements.

A Port Authority spokesman said the installation of a sprinkler system would be extremely expensive and would inconvenience the tenants. However, on 60 floors of the South Tower, tenants working for state agencies are considering having a sprinkler system installed at their own expense.

The cause of the fire was still undetermined late yesterday, although fire marshals tentatively concluded it had started under a desk in a record storage room on the east side of the 11th floor.

A spokesman for the Port Authority said that the fire had caused about $1-million in damages and that, as a result of it, nine concerns with offices on the 11th floor of the North Tower would be relocated within the Trade Center complex. Only the 11th-floor office area was burned, but extensive water damage occurred on the ninth and 10th floors, and smoke damage ascended as far as the 15th floor, the spokesman said.

Although there were no direct casualties, 28 of the 150 firemen called to the scene suffered minor injuries. And one man who came to work this morning only to learn that his office had been burnt out apparently had a heart attack.

The man, Albert Ullman, an export specialist with R.J. Saunders, Inc., Customs house brokers and freight forwarders, was taken to Beekman Downtown Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Two City Councilmen who have been working on a proposal for a home-rule measure that would ask the state Legislature to require the Port Authority and other state-chartered agencies to comply with local safety codes used the north tower fire as an example of hazards they want to prevent.

Councilman Stephen Kaufman and Howard Golden, joint sponsors of the measure, issued a statement saying that the exemption from local safety codes of agencies like the Port Authority was "endangering the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers."

A spokesman for the Port Authority said that the New York Telephone Company had asked the towers maintenance men to leave certain fire-stop gaps around phone cables open to allow room for new cables in the North Tower. But a spokesman for the phone company said that no such request had been made because no new cables were needed in the burned shaft.

State Will Install Sprinklers In Its Offices at Trade Center, February 16, 1975, by Paul L. Montgomery,

Editorial: Smothering a Fire Code, March 10, 1975

Only by the greatest good fortune were no lives lost in the devastating series of New York Telephone Company fires and the recent blaze in the World Trade Center. Property damage and interruption of the city's vital life processes were bad enough, but both fires point up the critical need for the newly revised fire code.

The high-rise building has turned out to have unique vulnerabilitie: conduits that make raceways for fires, the extraordinary stack action of a tall structure, automatic elevators attracted by heat, highly combustible plastic equipment and furnishings that burn with noxious fumes. The potential for catastrophe has become horribly clear.

The new law calls for sophisticated signal systems, tenant evacuation teams, and a choice of sprinkler instalation or pressurized stairs, in both new and old buildings. It requires compliance by January 1976; but beyond te filling of plans, virtually nothing has been done.

The building owners and the city are currently involved in bitter controversy about the cost and practicality. Many owners, already in financial trouble, are reluctant to make the necessary massive investments and they are indulging in calculated foot-dragging.

Compliance is not even required at the World Trade Center, which is exempt from city codes as a creature of the autonomous Port Authority. To add insult to injury, New York State is about to use $5 million of taxpayer's money to put sprinklers on all of the Trade Center's state office floors.

The city is willing to be flexible in such things as the staging of expensive installations. Admittedly, the costs of the new regulations are high. But the risks are even higher, in terms of holocaust and human life. Fiddling may be a classic evasion, but it is no substitute for compliance with the law.

Editorial: Unheeded Fire Alarm, April 22, 1975

Suspect, 19, Is Charged With Trade Center Fires, May 21, 1975, by Joseph B. Treaster,

High-Rise Office Buildings Assailed on Fire Hazards, May 24, 1975, by Edith Evans Asbury,

Questions Abound on High-Rise Fire Code, May 24, 1975, by Robert E. Tomasson,

High-Rises Scored On Fire Safety, May 24, 1975

Follow Up on the NewsTrade Center Blaze, November 23, 1975

Two days after a fire caused heavy damage in the North Tower of the World Trade Center last Feb. 13, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey appointed a special committee of four commissioners to look into fire-safety measures. Dr. William J. Ronan, chairman of the authority, asked for recommendations "as soon as possible."

John Tillman, public affairs director of the port agency, says: "This committee has had several meetings, the most recent last Wednesday....They still expect to have other meetings."

A report will be made "at some point---I can't give you the exact date now," Mr. Tillman continues. The report will tell how the Trade Center "can continue to comply with Local Law 5, which relates to fire safety in buildings over 100 feet high."

Trade Center to Improve Precautions Against Fire, January 16, 1976, by Edward C. Burks,

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced yesterday a $14 million program of improved fire protection at the World Trade Center, including more automatic sprinklers and more walls to seal off potential blazes.

Many of the floors in the 110-story twin towers now have extensive open spaces unbroken by walls. The program provides for dividing floors into 7,500-square-foot areas.

The authority's chairman, Dr. William J. Ronan, speaking at a news conference at the Trade Center, said the work would take three to five years. He added in response to a query: "There's little chance of havinga towering inferno here."

A midnight blaze that burned for several hours in the North Tower last February led to criticism of the building's fire-safety features, especially the lack of a complete system of automatic sprinklers.

There are now automatic  sprinklers in the four underground floors and in scattered public-assembly areas and computer centers. The new program calls for extending the sprinklers into other "high-hazard" areas such as mail rooms, file rooms and janitor closets in the central cores of both towers.

There will be an increase in water-pipe capacity and provision for further extensions of the sprinkler system if necessary, Dr. Ronan said. But he added that a complete sprinkler system would cost $43 million, "a figure that at this time is not feasable."

Other elements of the new program include: installing walls from concrete floor to concrete ceilling (rather than just to the false ceiling); expanding the fire alarm systems, installing more smoke detectors, especially in elevator lobbies, using doors that close off areas on detection of smoke, and designing of an aier-pressurization system to keep smoke out of stairwells.

A Smoky Fire Routs Trade Center Diners, June 25, 1977

A smoky fire broke out on the 46th floor of the World Trade Center's Tower No. 1 last night interrupting the dinners of 1,000 patrons at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 10th floor. A police officer who battled the fire and two cleaning women were admitted to Beekman Downtown Hospital for smoke inhalation.

According to the police, the fire occurred in the foyer in front of a recessed freight elevator, causing little damage.

The alarm was sounded at 10:02 P.M. and the fire was extinguished by 10:20. The diners were directed into the kitchen and onto the back stairs.

According to one restaurant patron: "The waiters did everything in a very orderly manner. Someone behind me mumbled about another 'Towering Inferno,' and a few dipped their napkins into their water glasses, but there was no general alarm."

Fire in World Trade Center, January 16, 1980

106th-Floor Fire Routs 200 at Trade Center Lunch, April 20, 1980

1 comment:

Phil Jayhan said...

I had no clue there were so many fires at WTC. Great article Steve!