Hi-rise fire provides warning for industry.
Because 27 people in the log book had not signed out - apparently when they exited in the commotion -- 155 extra firefighters were called in to conduct a thorough search and rescue operation throughout the 43-story building. Firefighter Frank Mc Cabe, a public information officer with the Fire De- partment who was on the scene, recalled four floors of the building had strings of lights on. The fire itself began on the sixth floor and affected the fifth and seventh floors.
Additionally, he said, as the fire surged into a second alarm, an office worker phoned the security desk saying she was trapped on the 21st floor. At this point, the firefighters looked at the missing sign-outs in the log book and decided to call in extra help.
"We would have searched the building anyway,' explained Mc Cabe, "but the fact that nobody in the management could account for the people [who signed the log going in], meant an extensive search had to be undertaken." Tom Parisi, a spokesperson for Bankers Trust, said when the fire was discovered the building was hastily evacuated and people left without pausing to sign out.
"The people at the security desk would have been occupied with other things as well," he noted. 'It was not a regular kind of environment."
He said they will be evaluating procedures in the wake of the emergency. The heavy smoke conditions forced the firefighters to wear their regular Scot air packs -- that have to be exchanged every 20 minutes -- along with their regular equipment. While there are special one-hour packs made for high rises, the department wanted to get the manpower into the building quickly. "Every door and every closet has to be opened and every desk has to be looked under," McCabe added, noting that each office is searched by two different units who mark the outer door with their unit number as they finish. "The basic recommendation for building managers," Mc Cabe said, "is that if you have a sign in book, they sign in and sign out. Management may have to re-evaluate this as to how it can be done more accurately."
Building managers may also have to institute 'sign out' procedures at pre-determined meeting sites outside the building, or find other ways of accounting for those feeling in an emergency situation.
The Fire Department requires the buildings keep a log, but Mc Cabe recognizes that people who work on the weekends become friendly with the guards and might not bother to sign the book. But when something like this happens it can truly be a disaster," he said. "We don't know if it's a rampant situation but I think management and security people will be reevaluating their security."
While the Fire Department realizes they would find many workers and cleaners still in the building on a Friday night, by Saturday and Sunday night they would be relying more on the log book.
At Park Tower Realty buildings, Senior Vice President Mickey Schwartz, who heads security for their security company, Triumph Security, said after the fire, they reiterated policies to both guards and tenants. "We are pretty strict about procedures," he said.
Additionally, they advise tenants to phone the security desk and let the guards know when they are working alone.
Director of Marketing Kate D. Coburn said the Park Tower guards take an active role with the clients. "They generally know who is working where and ask if anyone is left upstairs when people leave," she said. "They are proactive in asking."
Schwartz explained the Fire Department mandates that each floor has to assign someone to be a fire warden, a deputy fire warden, a female searcher and a male searcher. "It's not an exact science," he said, "and it doesn't mean that in the middle of a fire they don't run out and not sign out. There should be a place to have a head count."
Schwartz said their support instructions are being expanded to mandate people let someone know that they have exited.
Peter L. DiCapua president of Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of New York and senior vice president of ATCO Properties, owners and operators of 2 million square feet of commercial and industrial property, said these events, while tragic, make one think about the specific procedures.
"We all have procedures that from time to time we become lax about enforcing," he agreed.
DiCapua said the most difficult part of maintaining log books is obtaining tenant cooperation and convincing them that while 99 percent of the time it doesn't matter, one percent of the time it could be critical.
The day after the fire, DiCapua met with his engineer and maintenance manager and assistant operations people to determine if procedures were being followed.
He also intends to take up the subject at the next BOMA board meeting to brainstorm ideas about tracking people in the buildings and evacuating people if they have to exit in an emergency. "The firefighters have to know if people are in the building, " DiCapua noted.
Edward Riguardi, president of Koeppel Tener Riguardi, which manages about 8 million square feet, said like everything else, the keeping of the log book can get sloppy.
'Is it 100 percent? That goes with the type of management,' Riguardi said. 'The good buildings and good agents are diligently on it."
Riguardi said the Fire Department, the fire safety directors, and the cleaning contractors check these books constantly and that problems usually occur when there is a change of employees or unusual circumstances.
The real problem, Riguardi believes, is during the week when people normally come in and out. Even if the firefighters use the log, he does not believe they can rely on it to determine who is left in a building.
Security can become lax in some buildings until there is an incident, observed Richard Feldman, a managing director for Galbreath Riverbank and co-manager of their Downtown office.
"Properties that are managed by our firm are closely monitored," he said.
Feldman also believed that management expertise in staffing directly impacts the security of a building. "Often," he said, "the front desk is a critical point. Over the years there is more concern regarding messenger services and the possibility of vandalism and theft."
Feldman said Galbreath Riverband properties have a sign-in/sign-out register after hours that is enforced.
Howard P.Malloy, a Helmsely Spear senior vice president in charge of the financial district branch office, said they have always had a strict policy of having people sign in and out. During day, he noted, only guests sign the log because it would be impossible for everyone to check in. After 6 p.m. he observed, "there's no way of knowing if everyone has left the premises."
On the weekends, Malloy said, they are very concerned about maintaining an accurate log since tenants want to know about their own employees coming into a building.
"Administrative people have right to look at the sheets to see which employ-
ees have been in and the hours," he said.
While 140 Broadway provides full services on Saturdays, on Sunday, he said, "everybody has to sign out and the guards have strict instructions."
Malloy said Marine Midland Bank, which occupies its own floors in 140 Boardway, has its own elevators and security guards. "That's the best of all possible worlds because they control everything," he added, noting that most tenants do not have that luxury.
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|Title Annotation:||January 1993 fire in Bankers Trust building in New York, New York; includes advice on fire safety and prevention|
|Publication:||Real Estate Weekly|
|Date:||Feb 24, 1993|
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