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Fire Official: Toxic Fears at WTC Tower

AP | August 30, 2007
AMY WESTFELDT

NEW YORK The city's fire department had a long-standing policy not to enter a ground zero skyscraper where two firefighters died because of concerns about toxic debris inside, a reassigned fire official's lawyer said Wednesday.

Capt. Peter Bosco, who was one of the three officials reassigned this week for failing to order inspections of the building, joined the Engine 10/Ladder 10 firehouse adjacent to the former Deutsche Bank tower within the last year.

Bosco "inherited an existing policy of non-inspection" of the building, his lawyer and brother, John Bosco, said in a statement.

The policy was in place "to protect firefighters from exposure to deadly and noxious airborne toxins," Bosco said. The statement did not say how the captain learned of the policy, and John Bosco didn't immediately return a telephone message Wednesday.

The department said it hadn't inspected the building's standpipe, which sends water through the building, in over a year before the Aug. 18 blaze. It was required to do so every 15 days. The standpipe was broken at the time of the fire, leaving more than 100 firefighters with a scant water supply to fight the flames.

Peter D'Ancona, a retired firefighter from the same firehouse, said after inspecting the Deutsche Bank building two years ago to search for falling glass, a battalion chief told him and three others not to enter the building again.

The chief told the firefighters, "That's it. You guys don't go in this building no more. This is not right," D'Ancona said.

The chiefs, "were looking to protect us, the firefighters from any deadly contaminants in this building," he said.

Fire Department spokesman Jim Long said the department is investigating what the firehouse's policy was and whether chiefs gave varying instructions about the building.

The union representing fire officers wrote a letter Wednesday to Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta seeking a formal report of an April 2005 visit to the tower, which the city said last week was attended by battalion and division members overseeing the local firehouse.

John McDonnell, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said that the visit should have provided top officials in the department information about the fire hazards and toxins in the building.

State and city officials are conducting multiple investigations into the blaze, which was believed to have started by discarded cigarettes left by construction workers.

Prosecutors have subpoenaed records from the fire department, city Department of Buildings, the building's contractors and its owner, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., but have yet to receive any documents.

Officials from Bovis Lend Lease, the building's main contractor, answered some questions at a raucous community board meeting Wednesday night but declined to speak about the fire, citing the investigation. They said the firm was developing a new safety plan and expected to have the broken standpipe repaired and operational by Friday.

 

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