Monthly Archives

January 2014


NY Times: Counterintuitive Advice When You Hear ‘Fire!’ in a High-Rise: Stay Put

January 20, 2014


Owen Thompson, who lives across 10th Avenue from the Strand, at 500 West 43rd Street, took photographs as a fire burned on the 20th floor on Jan. 5. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

The first clang of the alarm came as many residents of the modern high-rise in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, were sitting down to brunch or opening the Sunday paper. Quickly came the screams — “Fire!”— and an acrid smoke that blackened windows and seeped under doors and through air vents. Few knew exactly where in the 42-story building the fire was. Some tried and failed to reach 911 operators, who were overwhelmed by calls. Many decided to flee.

Daniel McClung was one of them. He and his husband, Michael Cohen, scooped up their two dogs and left their 38th-floor apartment. They reached only the 31st floor before they were overcome by smoke, fire officials said. Mr. McClung, a 27-year-old playwright, died. As of Monday, Mr. Cohen, 32, an online video producer, remained in intensive care at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital. Their two dogs, Schooner and Georgia, also died.

It is a basic human instinct reinforced by countless grade-school fire drills: When you see flames or smell smoke, get out. In New York, where the reminders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack are omnipresent, the fates of those who waited and became trapped in the burning towers serve as a lesson for many, not least the people who live in high-rises like the Strand, the site of the Jan. 5 fire that killed Mr. McClung. But in modern high-rise buildings, fire safety experts say, flight can be deadly.

Michael Cohen, left, and Daniel McClung on their wedding day. They lived on the 38th floor at the Strand in Hell’s Kitchen, and fled when they smelled smoke. Mr. McClung died on the way down the stairs. CreditJavi Morgado

As they raced down the stairs, the couple ran into a suffocating plume of smoke sucked upward as if through a chimney when firefighters opened the stairwell door and pushed into the burning apartment.

Had the couple remained in their home, Mr. McClung would have survived, officials said. The fire turned out to be isolated to an apartment 18 floors below where the couple lived. Because the building was constructed of fire-resistant materials, the blaze barely spread. Even residents who remained in apartments directly next door to the fire emerged unscathed.

A fire safety notice that is supposed to be affixed to every entry door makes clear that staying in place is often the safest strategy during a fire. Most residents interviewed after the fire said they had never seen the notice, had seen it long ago, lost it, or, treated it like a safety information card on an airplane, and simply did not read it.


Even among those who knew the rule, many said the first impulse was to run.

“The idea of staying in your apartment when there’s a fire sounds wrong,” said George Hahn, 43, who fled with his dog, Smokey, when the fire alarm sounded.

Since the invention of the fire hydrant and in-home smoke detector, advances in technology have drastically decreased the risk of dying in a fire. In recent decades, buildings have been constructed with flame-resistant materials, and metal, self-closing doors meant to isolate fires once they break out.

Of the 67 fire deaths in the city last year, only 18 occurred in such buildings, almost all of them in the apartment that was actually on fire, according to the Fire Department.

Even so, no building is completely safe, and officials periodically update standards to deal with new problems or take advantage of new technology.

Graphic: A Tragedy on 10th Avenue

In 1998, four people died from smoke inhalation in a stairwell of an Upper West Side apartment tower under conditions similar to those that killed Mr. McClung. After that fire, which broke out in the apartment where the family of the actor Macaulay Culkin lived, a law was passed requiring all new high-rises and those undergoing major renovation to have sprinkler systems. A 2008 law required new buildings over 125 feet tall to have emergency intercom systems.

The Sept. 11 attack and the advent of residential supertowers, some exceeding 100 stories, have prompted engineers and fire officials to take a fresh look at fire safety in tall buildings, said Chris Jelenewicz, an engineering program manager at the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, based in Maryland.

Wider stairwells, advanced sprinkler systems and alarms that give precise instructions during an emergency would make buildings safer, he said. Someday, he said, elevators designed to withstand fires and earthquakes could be used to quickly evacuate buildings during an emergency.

In any case, Mr. Jelenewicz said, information is key.

“To really make these systems work you really need to educate the occupants,” he said.

The Strand, which opened in the late 1980s, was built with fire-resistant materials, plasterboard walls and metal doors designed to withstand a blaze for up to three hours, the Fire Department said. It does not have sprinklers or an intercom system.

After the fire there, friends of Mr. McClung and Mr. Cohen created apetition on the website calling for legislation that would require residential high-rise buildings to have public address systems to provide timely information in case of an emergency. Corey Johnson, a City Council member whose district includes Hell’s Kitchen, has proposed a bill that would require such systems in buildings over six stories.

“Many people don’t know whether they live in a fireproof building and don’t know whether they should stay or go during an emergency,” Mr. Johnson said at a news conference last week. “Daniel’s life would have been saved if he had stayed in his apartment, but he wasn’t given proper instructions when the fire broke out.”

The fire-damaged stairwell on the 20th floor of the Strand, where a man died trying to escape.CreditMichael Appleton for The New York Times

When the fire alarms sounded in the Strand about 11 a.m. that chilly Sunday morning, reactions varied. Some stayed in place and hoped for the best, stuffing wet towels into air vents and the spaces under doors. Others threw on clothes, grabbed children and pets and ran. One man in an apartment a floor above the fire was seen furiously scrubbing the railings and glass of his terrace with a rag apparently trying to keep the soot at bay.

Another resident, Nina Regevik, a physician who is a member of an emergency response team created in New Jersey after the Sept. 11 attack, said she was fully aware of the fire safety procedures in her building. But when someone outside her apartment yelled “Fire!” and told everyone to evacuate, she said she defied her training, picked up her cat and fled with her partner.

“Despite how many years of training and hearing what one should do, that was totally trumped by hearing someone in a very worrisome voice saying ‘Get out, get out, fire,’ ” she said.

At one point a jet of flame shot out over 10th Avenue and white-hot metal rained down on the street, witnesses said. The fire burned about two hours.

With their two dogs, Mr. McClung and Mr. Cohen rushed into Stair A, one of two stairwells in the building. Though they had no way of knowing it, this was a serious mistake.

Because Stair A housed the building’s red-painted standpipe, an innovation in tall buildings that feeds water to fire hoses, firefighters designated it their “attack” stairway, said Francis X. Gribbon, the Fire Department’s chief spokesman.

Mr. McClung and Mr. Cohen were probably overcome after the firefighters opened the door from the stairwell to smoke coming from the partly opened door of the burning apartment.

If evacuation is imperative, Mr. Gribbon said, as a general rule, a stairwell without a standpipe should be used. In the Strand, the second stairwell, Stair B, remained largely free of smoke during the fire.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said he was creating a task force that would meet with residents of high-rise buildings about proper safety procedures.

At the Strand last week, workers scrubbed the walls of Stair A, which was still coated in soot. Mr. Cohen, who remains sedated, has not yet been told of his husband’s death, said Javier Morgado, a close friend of the couple’s.

“The emotional toll of this has yet to even begin as far as it concerns Michael,” he said.


NY Post: News of husband’s death awaits Strand fire survivor

January 14, 2014

By Sean Piccoli, Yoav Gonen and Kathryn Cusma

A man critically injured escaping a high-rise fire in Hell’s Kitchen still doesn’t know his husband and their dogs died in the blaze, a friend said Monday.

Michael Cohen, 32, has been in New York Hospital’s burn unit under sedation and on a ventilator since the Jan. 5 inferno on West 43rd Street that killed his husband, playwright Daniel McClung, 27.

“It’s a matter of seeing how well enough he is to handle the news that his partner died and his dogs died, because he doesn’t know,” the friend said.

The tragedy has prompted an outpouring of support, with an online fund-raiser collecting more than 1,600 donations for Cohen’s medical expenses.

It has also stirred a push for new fire-safety rules.

City Councilman Corey Johnson proposed Monday to require residential buildings with more than six floors to install emergency public-address systems in stairwells and make fire drills mandatory.

“I think fire drills should be part of” the legislation, said Johnson, whose district includes Hell’s Kitchen. “It’s something I plan on including.”

He called PA systems a “common-sense, easy solution” that could have alerted McClung and Cohen to stay in their apartment instead of fleeing down a stairwell that firefighters were using to vent smoke.


New York Business Journal: After Midtown fire, Council member proposes new fire safety rule

January 13, 2014

After a deadly Midtown high-rise fire earlier this month, City Council member Corey Johnson plans to introduce legislation mandating new fire safety measures.

According to a report by the Wall Street JournalJohnson is proposing that buildings taller than six stories have communications systems that would allow people inside a burning structure to hear instructions from fire department personnel. The current rules state that residential buildings taller than 125 feet and built after 2009 must have public address systems for emergency situations, the report said.

WABC reported that “the vast majority of apartment buildings built before 1999” do not have sprinklers, and that communications systems would be a cheaper alternative to overhauling the plumbing in those high rises. That report quoted a retired deputy fire chief, Vincent Dunn, saying that such communications systems are a valuable tool to firefighters, as they allow them to quickly direct residents to take the safest course of action.


Huffington Post: Corey Johnson Airs Safety Idea For New York High-Rises After Fire That Killed Daniel McClung

January 13, 2014


NEW YORK (AP) — A week after a Manhattan fire killed a young playwright, a New York City lawmaker proposed a new fire-safety requirement for high-rise apartment houses that could save lives.

City Councilman Corey Johnson told a news conference Monday that buildings taller than six stories should be required to have emergency public-address systems so first responders and building managers can communicate better with residents.

The 27-year-old playwright, Daniel McClung, was overcome by smoke in a stairwell near the 31st floor of The Strand apartment building on Manhattan’s West Side after fleeing his 38th-floor Manhattan apartment on Jan. 5, when flames swept through a unit 18 floors below. McClung’s 32-year-old husband, Michael Todd Cohen, is still in the hospital recovering from smoke inhalation.

The two had left their apartment, which was not on fire, and were trapped in the smoke.

The blaze was sparked by an overloaded power strip in a 20th-floor apartment at the condominium, authorities said.

Fire officials have said residents would have been safe staying in their apartments because of the building’s fireproof design. But in many buildings, Johnson said, residents don’t know that following their instinct to try to get out may not be the best way to survive.

“The tragic death at The Strand was entirely preventable,” Johnson said, adding that “the groundswell of local support around this issue was stunning.”

A friend of the couple, Javier Morgado, started an online petition calling for public address systems to be installed in emergency stairwells in all high-rises. It has received more than 5,000 signatures.

He then reached out to Johnson’s office, which drafted the legislation and met with Morgado last week.

The Fire Department had no immediate response to Johnson’s proposal. Some commercial buildings and hotels already have such systems.

Currently, public address systems are required for all residential buildings that are over 125 feet tall and built in or after 2009, when the building code went into effect, according to the city Department of Buildings.

The councilman was joined by former FDNY Commissioner Tom Von Essen, who said there was “no question” that such a system would save lives.”

In fireproof buildings such as The Strand, “the instruction would be not to get out,” Von Essen said. “Chances are in a big, high-rise residential building, the safest place for you to be is in your apartment.”


Metro: After deadly Hell’s Kitchen fire, new safety regulations proposed

January 13, 2014

A city councilman proposed new safety regulations Monday after a deadly fire in Hell’s Kitchen last week

hell's kitchen fireCouncilman Corey Johnson, right, proposed new fire safety regulations Monday after Javier Morgado, center, created an online petition when his friend died while escaping a blaze in Hell’s Kitchen last week.
Credit: William Alatriste/New York City Council


A week after a Manhattan man died fleeing a fire with his new husband, friends stood on the steps of City Hall Monday to support safety measures that might have saved his life.

“Today we would be celebrating the six-month anniversary of this couple’s wedding,” friend Javier Morgado said. “Instead, we’re dealing with a tragedy and trying to make something good of it.”

Daniel McClung, 27, died trying to escape a fire with Michael Todd Cohen, 32, in their Hell’s Kitchen apartment building Jan. 5. The couple fled down a stairwell after a three-alarm blaze broke out on a different floor.

Firefighters were using the same stairwell to run a hose to put out the flames and it filled with smoke, killing McClung and critically-injuring Cohen.

Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson proposed legislation Monday that would require buildings taller than six stories to have emergency public-address systems in stairwells and hallways. The systems would allow first responders and landlords to communicate better with residents, he and other officials said.

Such systems are currently required for residential buildings over 125 feet tall and built in or after 2009. Johnson said such a system could have alerted the couple to stay in their apartment.

“This is a common-sense, easy solution to protect lives,” Johnson said.

Morgado contacted Johnson after launching an online petition calling for a public-address requirement in high-rises.

“We need something good to come of this,” said Morgado, whose petition has received more than 5,000 signatures.

Fire officials said last week that the couple might have been safer from the 20th floor-fire in their own apartment on the 38th floor.

“This gentleman would be alive today if he had stayed in his apartment,” former FDNY Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said.

Johnson said he has informed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office of the proposed legislation and is open to amending the bill based on recommendations from the fire department.

Still unaware his husband has died, Cohen remains at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in stable condition.

“You’re never prepared to go through something like this,” said Jason Mitchell, 34, who has known Cohen for a decade and spoke on behalf of his family. “But we are all very, very touched and grateful for everything that has happened with this petition.”

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


Epoch Times: Safety Measure Proposed After Deadly High-Rise Fire

January 13, 2014


NEW YORK—Like a phoenix is born from the ashes, so can better safety regulations be born from building fires. On Monday, Council member Corey Johnson announced proposed legislation that would require the city’s residential high-rises of six stories or more to have emergency communication systems installed in stairways and possibly hallways as well.

The legislation came about as the result of a Jan. 5 apartment fire on the 20th floor of The Strand, a high-rise on the far west side of Midtown. A faulty extension cord caught fire at about 11 a.m., sending smoke into the apartments above. Two men panicked and ran into a stairwell that was full of smoke. They were found later on the 31st floor and rushed to the hospital. One was severely injured but is in stable condition, the other died that day.

“Daniel’s life could have been saved if he had stayed in his apartment but he wasn’t given proper instructions when the fire broke out,” said Johnson, who serves the district where the fire broke out.

Daniel McClung, 27, a playwright by profession, died from the smoke that was shooting up the stairwell. The Fire Department said he would have survived if he had known to stay in his apartment, which was fireproof.

The Fire Department’s “Residential Apartment Building Fire Safety Guidelines” state that for buildings that are fireproof, it is best to stay inside unless the fire is in the unit itself. It says to seal all holes that smoke can seep into and call the fire department as soon as possible. For nonfireproof buildings, it says to evacuate immediately.

The bill, which Johnson said should be finalized in the next month, has a tentative implementation date of July 1, 2019. That is the same date that owners of buildings of 100 feet or taller will be required to install sprinkler systems as well.

Emergency communication systems are already required in commercial buildings, like offices and hotels, but not in residential buildings. Johnson said he had not done a cost analysis, but thinks the infrastructure would be relatively easy to install.

“I don’t think that the cost is going to be that prohibitive to make sure that New Yorkers are safe in their own apartment buildings,” said Johnson, who acknowledged that landlords would be the ones paying for it.

Thomas Von Essen, a former Fire Department commissioner said, “If older buildings are able to add wiring for the Internet and cable TV, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to require a public address speaker system in the stairwell that might save lives.”

In addition Johnson called for better communication before the fire happens.

“I think that fire drills should be part of it. I think that we need to make sure that residents annually are updated through a flier or through some type of communication to let them know the best way to evacuate in case of a fire.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer suggested social media as one way to reach people.

“We need to use social media, even though it is not a law to do so, to tell people what kind of building they live in and what the fire situation is, God forbid there should be an emergency.”

Emergency evacuation plans for residential buildings can be found online or upon request from building managers or landlords, Johnson said. They are also required by law to be posted in a conspicuous place in the building.

There is nothing in the bill’s draft that would require buildings to have alternative communication systems for the deaf or hard of hearing, but Johnson said he is open to modifying the legislation once he talks to the fire department

The Fire Department did not respond for comment.

Holly Kellum is a special correspondent in New York. 


NY Daily News: Manhattan fatal fire leads to call for public address systems in high-rises

January 13, 2014



Former FDNY Commissioner Thomas VonEssen (left) looks on as Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) announces a bill requiring buildings taller than six stories to have public address systems in stairwells and hallways at a news conference at City Hall Monday.

Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) announces a bill requiring buildings taller than six stories to have public address systems to guide residents, after last week’s Hell’s Kitchen blaze in which a man died trying to flee a 32nd-floor apartment.


A lawmaker is pushing for mandatory public address systems in residential buildings after a deadly inferno at a Hell’s Kitchen apartment building last week.

Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) announced a bill Monday requiring buildings taller than six stories to have the public address systems in stairwells and hallways to give residents instructions during a fire — telling them whether to flee or stay put.

Daniel McClung, 27, was killed fleeing his 32nd-floor apartment after a blaze started in a unit on the 20th floor at the Strand on W. 43rd St. His husband,Michael Cohen, was badly injured and remains hospitalized.

Cohen is recovering but doesn’t know his spouse perished in the blaze, said his best friend, Jason Mitchell, 33.

Fire officials have said the two men would have been safe if they had stayed in their apartment in the fireproof building. Instead, they tried to leave through a smoke-filled stairwell.

“Many people don’t know if they live in a fireproof building, or whether or not they should stay or go during an emergency,” Johnson said.

“He wasn’t given proper instructions when the fire broke out, and like many people he just tried to flee and escape.”

Johnson said he also planned to push for periodic fire drills in residential high-rises.

He said the new rules would apply to thousands of buildings across the city, including NYCHA buildings.

Javier Morgado, 36, a friend of the couple, backed the measure on what would have been his pals’ six-month wedding anniversary.

“They didn’t know they were running right into danger until it hit them,” he said. “We’re dealing with a tragedy and trying to make something good out of it.

“This story is resonating so much with so many people in New York City only because you can see yourself in that very situation,” he added.

Former FDNY Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said first responders face an uphill battle


Crain’s NY: New way to call for help in apartment stairwells

January 13, 2014

Following a fatal blaze this month in Hell’s Kitchen, a City Councilman proposes requiring stairwells in residential buildings of more than six stories to have emergency communication systems.


Residential buildings more than six stories tall would be required to have emergency communication systems in stairwells, according to legislation proposed Monday by freshman City Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) in response to a deadly Hell’s Kitchen blaze earlier this month.

“The tragic death at The Strand was entirely preventable,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement following a City Hall news conference, referring to the Jan. 5 inferno on the 20th floor of 500 W. 43rd St., at the corner of 10th Avenue.

When 27-year old Daniel McClung and his 32-year old husband Michael Cohen attempted to evacuate the building via an emergency stairwell, smoke from the fire billowed into their path, killing Mr. McClung and critically injuring Mr. Cohen.

The legislation would create a way for first responders and building managers to advise residents on the safest course of action during an emergency. In this case, the system might have been used to alert Messrs. McClung and Cohen to take another route or stay in their home.

The bill has the support of former FDNY Commissioner Thomas Von Essen as well as other area lawmakers, and Mr. Johnson’s office noted similar systems already exist in commercial buildings and hotels.

Tragic incidents have driven past safety improvements. For example, two fatal fires in 1998 spurred legislation requiring sprinklers in high rises under construction or buildings undergoing significant renovations.



January 12, 2014
January 12, 2014 6:53:59 AM PST

New York City Council members are announcing new legislation to improve fire safety after a deadly blaze in a Manhattan high-rise building.27-year old Daniel McClung was killed when smoke filled his Hell’s Kitchen building at 500 West 43rd St. on January 5th.

His husband, 32-year old Michael Todd Cohen, was injured in the fire.

On Monday, City Councilman Corey Johnson and other elected officials will gather at City Hall to announce they are introducing a bill to require additional safety measures in high-rise residential buildings.

The proposed legislation works to ensure first responders and building management are better able to communicate with residents during emergencies.

Cohen and McClung were found in a stairwell on the 31st floor.

An Eyewitness News investigation raised disturbing questions about fire safety in New York City high-rise buildings, finding two key fire protections are not required in most of them.

December 1998, a fire in the high-rise apartment of Macaulay Culkin’s family ended with four people dead in a stairwell. That pushed City Council to require all new residential high-rises to have sprinklers. But that leaves the vast majority of apartment buildings built before 1999 without them, including the Standard site of last week’s fatal fire.

“You and I would not be having this interview if that building was sprinkled, it would have gone off and it would have put the fire out and that would have been the end of it,” said Glenn Corbett, a Fire Safety Expert.

But there’s another less costly measure that fire experts say could have made a big difference in the Hell’s Kitchen fire.

“That communication system, we have it in office buildings, we have it in hotels,” said Vincent Dunn, Retired FNDY Deputy Fire Chief.

We do not have it in hundreds of high-rise apartments built before 2008. A public address system, says Retired Deputy Fire Chief Vincent Dunn, would allow an incident commander to quickly communicate with people in their apartments during a fire to tell them what to do, such as don’t flee.

“Without the information, it’s more likely people make a mistake, leave the apartment, and die in hallway and stairways,” Dunn said.

That’s what happened on Sunday and in 1998, and will happen again say fire safety experts unless public address systems are also required in older high-rises.

“As an incident commander I’ve seen the importance of a communication system, the need to give the people instructions during the time of a fire,” Dunn said.

“Perhaps this would have played a role in this recent fire on 43rd Street,” Corbett said.