WoDG Postcard

coffee cup
Scorched in Hells Kitchen

Author: Tweety
Column: Tweetys Turf
Date: 2013-02-28 04:34:38

By now, the news of a tragic fire in Hells Kitchen will have been snapped up by every major and minor local newsgroup. The statistics are rattled down with usual staccato tempo – 20 dead, the heroic efforts of the men and women from the fire department managed to contain the fire to the 19th floor of the building at 520 West 43rd Street.


But why doesn’t anyone look beyond the usual quick-fire numbers of body counts and response times? This reporter DID – and the findings are as heartbreaking as they could have been preventable.


Possibly the most fragile loss was suffered by the Patel family. Nagesh Patel left his wife Adhira, their 8 month old daughter Nishta to work his day job as usual. He will never be able to forget this day, as his homecoming did not mean a nice warm meal, but rather the heart-crushing news that his wife and daughter had perished along with all their belongings. This morning in particular, Adhira revealed something to him that would turn events even more tragic. Adhira Patel had just found out last week that she had conceived again.


Then there’s Fatimah, who didn’t want to give her full name. Fatimah is a refugee from Syria. After the death of her husband, she escaped with her two children to live with a relative here in the United States. She worked hard to earn herself a scholarship and is attending law school. Or she was – until this morning. She stopped crying now – hours after learning the news. Her prospects have changed dramatically – without a family member to sponsor her stay, she faces being deported back to her home country. What awaits her there? Anything from abuse, violence and rape are rampant in that conflict-torn country.


And what about the mystery of William Burke? By all accounts, a good sort – an active member of the community who worked twice a week on a suicide prevention hotline while looking after his mother who was suffering from Dementia. It seems impossible to tell whether he was first crushed to death by a falling wardrobe, whether he slowly asphyxiated – caught underneath the crushing weight – whilst poisonous fumes filled the air. All that the brave men and women from rescue 1 could tell for certain is that even in his last moments, he was trying to reach out to the unconscious, likely dead, body of his mother just a few inches too far away for him to touch.


These are just some of the stories of many more of those who were affected in the cruelest way. Were it not for the fact that the rescue 1 fire station was just a stone’s throw away from the tragedy, it could have spread far beyond the 19th floor.


Initial investigations lay the cause of the fire firmly at outdated wiring. The building at 520 West 43rd Street has outdated wiring – in some cases, dating back to the 70’s. The building manager has now committed to renewing the infrastructure … but now, that the tragedy has happened, it is certainly too late for all the relatives, families and loved ones of those who had been consumed by this most preventable of infernos.


How many more utterly preventable tragedies like this are needed for the government to wake up to the fact that regulatory standards are too weak? As a face saving exercise, building owners will – eventually – upgrade wiring, but this requires a tragedy to happen in the first place.


Is this not a back-to-front logic?


This journalist calls for a campaign to strengthen regulatory requirements on building owners. Other countries have them – and surely even a single life saved, a single tragedy averted would be worth it. Initial research with the fire department shows that no less than 18% of household fires resulting in deaths are caused by outdated wiring.


It’s time to change this!