Structural Anatomy: Operational Safety at Deconstruction and Demolition Sites

Conventional tactical operations jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable.


Fire operations for structures undergoing construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and danger to operating personnel. This reality was clearly validated when two FDNY firefighters died in the line-of-duty during a seven-alarm fire that tore through the abandoned Deutsche Bank skyscraper in lower Manhattan, next to ground zero in New York City on Saturday August 18, 2007.

The Deutsche Bank building located at 130 Liberty Street, adjacent to the quarters of FDNY Engine 10 and Ladder 10, was once a 40-story high-rise structure that had been systematically reduced to 26-stories at the time of the fire. Significant building contamination from numerous toxic substances that included asbestos and lead resulting from the destruction of the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks required the deliberate floor-by-floor dismantling effort as part of the deconstruction process that would ultimately remove the building from its present site.

The two FDNY firefighter fatalities were Joseph Graffagnino, an eight-year veteran and Robert Beddia a 23-year veteran, both assigned to Engine 24 and Ladder 5 in SoHo. The seven-alarm fire was being worked with a contingent of over 275 firefighters when the pair became trapped on the 14th floor of the building after being overcome by blinding concentrations of dense smoke after their air supply was depleted during the course of combat fire suppression operations.

More and more facts are emerging during the on-going investigations, providing insights into fire department operations, physical building conditions, risk profiles, hazards and deficiencies. The fact that the Deutsche Bank building was being dismantled floor-by-floor - that it was undergoing "Deconstruction" meant that the building was a primary target hazard containing significant operational vulnerabilities, hazards and dangers posing life threatening risk to unsuspecting firefighting personnel. The fact that this building was undergoing asbestos abatement further compounds the degree of risk present.

The unique and dangerous elements confronting incident commanders, company officers and operating forces demands a clear understanding that fire suppression operations in buildings during construction, alterations, deconstruction, demolition and renovations present significant risks and consequences that require a methodical and conservative approach towards incident stabilization and mitigation. You cannot implement conventional tactical operations in these structures. Doing so jeopardizes all operating personnel and creates unbalanced risk management profiles that are typically not favorable to the safety and well-being of firefighters.

Here are some emerging elements that apparently were present at the Deutsche Bank building fire;

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