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Officials reassigned after deadly WTC site fire

The New York City Fire Department on Monday demoted three fire officials after a blaze at a vacant ground zero skyscraper killed two firefighters.
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Smoke rises from the abandoned Deutsche Bank Building, center, on Aug. 18 during what would turn into a seven-alarm fire that would claim the lives of two New York City firefighters.David Karp / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Three senior fire officials responsible for inspecting the condemned skyscraper where two firefighters died were stripped of their commands and reassigned Monday, and the Fire Department ordered intensive inspections of buildings under demolition.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also announced that a preliminary investigation indicated that careless smoking by construction workers started the deadly Aug. 18 fire at the former Deutsche Bank building, which was heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks and was being dismantled and cleaned of toxic debris floor by floor.

Two firefighters died of cardiac arrest while trying to battle that blaze.

After the fire, the department acknowledged that it did not have a plan in place to fight fire at the tower and that it had not inspected the building’s standpipe system, which connects fire hoses to its water supply, in over a year, even though it should have done so every 15 days. Inspectors found pieces of the standpipe disconnected in the tower’s basement.

Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta on Monday ordered deputy chiefs to inspect all buildings in their divisions that are under construction or demolition and to review all plans to fight fires at every building in their area.

Scoppetta also said that a deputy chief, a battalion chief and a captain at the firehouse in charge of inspections at the tower were being reassigned to headquarters.

Bloomberg said the department failed to properly inspect the building, which he called “not excusable.”

“I’m not interested in fingerpointing,” he said. “I simply want to fix what is broken and that’s why we’ve spent a lot of time over the last 10 days trying to account for those failures.”

The reassigned deputy chief had received a memo more than two years earlier that included recommendations for how to fight a fire in the contaminated skyscraper, the New York Post reported Monday. The memo recommended that if a fire broke out, just one officer and two firefighters should go into the building to investigate and evaluate the situation.

Instead, more than 100 FDNY members rushed in to battle the flames. Killed were firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33.

A Fire Department spokesman confirmed Monday that the March 2005 memo from Battalion Chief William Siegel was authentic. The department would not comment Monday on whether senior officials read the memo or accepted its recommendations.

Bloomberg said the firefighters who responded behaved “in a textbook manner, doing everything they had been trained to do.”

City officials had said earlier that construction workers routinely took smoke breaks just outside the area where the fire started, and Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Nicolas Scoppetta said that careless smoking on the 17th floor appeared to be the cause. They said investigators had ruled out electrical causes.

The main focus of the investigation is the broken standpipe, and the city has sought the help of the FBI in determining how the pipe was breached. Bloomberg said pieces of the pipe were sent to the FBI as part of the investigation.