Standpipe Malfunction Investigated in NYC Skyscraper Fire

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NEW YORK-- There's new information this morning on that deadly fire at the former Deutsche Bank building at Ground Zero, a fire that killed two NYC firefighters.

Officials are now focusing on the stand pipe that was supposed to supply water to the building. It wasn't working on Saturday and firefighters could not get water up past the fifth floor without bringing it up themselves.

Ladder 5 firefighters Joe Graffagnino and Robert Beddia ran out of oxygen while trapped inside that building.

Eyewitness News reporter Lisa Colagrossi is live in Lower Manhattan with the latest.

The only mechanism in place to get water to Deustche Bank building in an emergency is a stand-pipe system. This system, maintained by the subcontractor in charge of demolition, John Volt Corporation which OSHA has sited 20 times for serious violations.

Officials now believe that sealing up the Deutsche bank for asbestos created the worst possible scenario for firefighters when the fire broke out on Saturday.

"Walking through the polyurethane layers, I can tell you they walked into a horror show. And, they walked into an environment where those polyurethane layers, which were there to protect the community from asbestos, also in that context led to an environment where the smoke was being contained," said Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

As the investigation continue, it's looking more and more like firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino ran into a death trap.

Fire officials now suspect a stand pipe, that brings water to the building, was not working due to a cracked or broken valve. When the fire started, the stand pipe sent water flooding into the basement of the former Deutsche bank building, denying water to the firefighters at the most crucial moment.

As a result, water could not be pumped beyond the fifth floor, and firefighters had to haul heavy hoses up the side of the building. That extra time needed proved deadly. The oxygen in the men's tanks ran out. Two firefighters lost their lives saving an abandoned building that was set to be demolished.

"We lost two of the finest men that you could ever meet in your life," said Capt. Patrick McNally.

The young, 33-year-old firefighter Joseph Graffagnino and seasoned veteran 53-year-old Robert Beddia died of cardiac arrest due to smoke inhalation.

As many as 200 workers who were present on Saturday will be interviewed. There were cigarette butts found inside the building but smoking is prohibited. Officials are looking at that as one possibility for how this fire broke out.

More on two fallen firefighters

Both firefighters worked out of the same firehouse in Soho for Ladder 5. Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson has more information on the firefighters.

A wall of flower, with river of tears, many firefighters went to Sunday morning mass with the weight of the world on their shoulders. It is a place they have been before not by choice, rather unfortunate circumstance.

"We are going to stick together for this week and the following months," said Capt. Patrick McNally. "They will get through it."

It is the same dark cloud that hung over the firehouse back in September 2001 has returned. Nearly six years ago, these men mourned the deaths of 11 of their brothers. Now, the same men shed their tears for two more.

"Just unbelievable," said Capt. Patrick McNally. "They were tremendous firemen and tremendous gentlemen."

34-year-old Joseph Graffagnino and 53-year-old Robert Beddia both died fighting Saturday night's fire at the former Deutsche Bank Tower.

The men were running a hose up the vacant skyscraper when they got trapped on the 14th floor. It appears these air tanks ran out of oxygen and with nowhere to go, collapsed. The smoke caused the pair to go into cardiac arrest.

Neighbors say Graffagnino, an 8-year veteran, lived in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and two small kids. They bought the house to be close to parents who live just around the corner.

"He was like the heart and soul, just a tremendous spirit and sense of humor," said McNally.

Joanne DeVito saw Graffagnino on Friday. She now gets chills realizing it was the last.

"He was loving, lovely man," said neighbor Joanne DeVito. "Every time you saw him, he was always talking to the neighbors and had a big smile on his face."

Beddia, a 23-year veteran was the senior man on scene Saturday night and in this fire house. He trained almost every firefighter here called one of the superstars of kindness.

"He can have a great sense of humor," said neighbor Suzanne Troy. "But when the fire bells rang, boom, he sprang like a 20-year-old."

Now, at that hour Sunday night, there is no word yet on funeral arrangements for either man.

Copyright 2007 by WABC-TV.

Republished with permission of WABC-TV.

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