The resurgence of Long Island City, a former industrial hub, has resulted in more than 10,000 new apartments and over 1.5 million square feet of office space in recent years, according to the Economic Development Corporation.
As more New Yorkers begin to live and work in many of these tall, high-density buildings, each comparable to a vertical village, it is more important now than ever to have strong fire safety protection and insights to protect yourselves.
Modern fires are more dangerous today than 30 to 40 years ago, burning hotter, more toxic and 800 percent faster, according to Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
In a fire left unattended, you only have about three minutes to get out safely before temperatures reach about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is a result of increased use of petroleum-based compounds and synthetics in modern furnishings and construction materials, which fuel rapid-fire spread.
Simply put, there are two mechanisms that enable our ever-taller vertical metropolis to exist: elevators and life-saving fire sprinklers.
Fire sprinkler systems are so important because they reduce fire fatalities by about 80 percent and property loss by 70 percent, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
It’s critical that fire sprinklers work 100 percent of the time without fail, because there are no second chances when your family’s life is on the line.
That’s why the City of New York has created strict criteria and licensing, and why union steamfitters from Local 638 undergo years of extensive training at the Steamfitters Industry Training Center in Long Island City.
Since 1973, there has been a significant reduction in fire fatalities in New York City, specifically because of legislative changes requiring sprinklers in high-density buildings.
Too often, safety measures are taken only after there is tragic loss of life. That was the case in 1970, when two office building fires killed five people and injured dozens.
Three years later, City Council legislation required high-rise office buildings exceeding 100-feet tall to have stair pressurization and compartmentalization or a sprinkler system. As a result, New York City recorded a decline in fire deaths, from a record high of 310 in 1970 to 59 in 2015.
The city’s sharpest one-year drop in fire fatalities, from 296 in 1990 to 187 in 1991, also coincided with Local Law 55 of 1989, which requires professionals installing and modifying fire sprinkler systems be licensed by the City of New York.
There has been a nearly continuous drop in average annual number of fire deaths ever since.
In 1999, New York City made an effort to improve fire safety in residential buildings when the City Council passed legislation that requires new multifamily dwellings with three or more units to be fully protected by fire sprinklers. The same applies to existing buildings when renovations or alterations total more than 50 percent of the building value.
Nearly half a century of strengthened fire sprinkler legislation is a primary reason why New York City is a national leader in fire safety, and recently recorded the second-lowest number of fire fatalities, 59, in 2015 following a record low of 58 in 2012.
While we have come a long way, the stark truth is that even one fire casualty is too many for our city and its citizens.
Robert Bartels, Jr. is a 35-year piping industry veteran and Business Agent-at-Large of the 8,500-member Steamfitters Local 638 based in Long Island City.