Whether it’s an Oakland-size warehouse fire or a house fire in Scarsdale, the tragedy that has just taken place in both has many people stunned, questioning how something like this could happen. And more importantly, could an Oakland size fire happen here?
All accounts thus far have determined that the building was being used improperly given its zoning of record. Equally important was the fact that the building did not have sprinklers. Would sprinklers have saved the people that were killed? It’s difficult to predict with certainty, but statistics indicate that the odds would have been greatly increased toward survival. Regardless, the warehouse’s owner, Chor Ng, through his daughter, Eva Ng, says he didn’t know that people were living there. But the leaseholder, Derick Ion Almena, has said he resides in the 4,000 square foot space with his wife, three children, and other artists.
Almena appeared contrite on the Today Show on Dec. 6. “I’m only here to say one thing: that I’m incredibly sorry and that everything that I did was to make this a stronger and more beautiful community and to bring people together.” When asked about criminal negligence charges he might face for the building conditions, Almena got angry and refused to address known dangers in the warehouse. “I signed a lease and I got a building that was to city standards supposedly … I don’t want to talk about me. I don’t want to talk about profiting …This is not profit. This is a mass grave,” he said. What he stated was partially correct; the building was to city standards when he signed the lease. But, as the tenant, he either made or condoned illegal changes and later sublet spaces to others who may not have known what was being done was illegal or unsafe.
Could the same occurrence happen here? It’s difficult to say, but we believe so. Given the liberal acceptance of many in Greenburgh and their willingness to allow illegal residential usage and be a “sanctuary” town, the probability exists. Talk to any firefighter in Greenburgh or its villages, or any community in Westchester, and they can point out houses and small apartment buildings that are over-crowded and being used beyond the intent of the community’s zoning code. Ask them if they have ever responded to a call where modifications have been done and the answer will be a resounding, “Yes!” Most can also cite numerous building, zoning and safety codes that are being violated. But, in Greenburgh as well as New York, any questions of illegalities can and will be ignored simply because inspectors must receive permission to gain access to a residence to do an inspection. Mr Feiner has also instructed the Police and Building Departments to look the other way when they come upon illegal conversions. The resident’s right-of-refusal of entry to both leaves perilous situations unchanged!
We need Mr Feiner and his Board to stop pandering to everybody simply for their own agenda: votes. We need politicians to stop coming to Fire Department Inspection Dinners, presenting a proclamation or espousing how great the firefighters are and saying they appreciate and value the job they do for our communities. What we need them to do is show our communities how much they value what the fire service does by crafting laws that allow access for life safety reasons, code violation reasons and dangerous living conditions. We need Mr Feiner to not perpetuate a sanctuary Greenburgh on every level in the town. Only then will residents be safer. Only then will firefighters, already dancing with the devil given what they do, be safer. It’s time for everyone to stop talking about safety and do something about it so that we don’t have another Oakland size tragedy, especially and unnecessarily in Greenburgh!