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11.IV.E

New York City (NYC)
Bankers Trust Building Fire - 1993

 
 
Banker's Trust Fire
 
     
 

In Midtown Manhattan, on Park Avenue stood a well known commercial high rise structure named the Bankers Trust Building. On Sunday, January 31, 1993, at approximately 10:48 pm, a fire alarm was set off by smoke detectors on the 6 floor. As expected for a Sunday evening, there were only a handful of staff occupying the building, mostly management. However, it was soon discovered that 27 employees had not signed out on the log book upon leaving the building. As a precautionary measure, 155 additional firefighters were called in to search the building for evacuation. The fire was believed to have been ignited by an overheated electrical wiring in the ceiling. There were no casualties reported as the rescue team swiftly evacuated those trapped on the sixth and seventh floors. Despite no loss of life, extensive damage occurred on the three floors affected. In total, the Bankers Trust building suffered over $10 million dollars in damages.

The fire exposed several issues in fire prevention techniques used in high-rise buildings. In 1973, Local Law 5 was adopted by New York State outlining certain retroactive requirements, including requirement for water sprinklers or fire compartmentalization techniques to be used in high rise buildings. This particular building had chosen to use the cost effective measure of fire compartmentalization, which was supposed to confine the fire and prevent it from spreading. However, this type of retroactive firefighting had proven to be mostly ineffective: the open layout of the office allowed it to spread quickly, and paper and electronic equipment in the cubicles fed the frenzied flames. Another significant disadvantage in the layout of the floor was the fact that the ceilings were high and smoke did not reach the smoke detectors immediately. In fact they were activated seven minutes after the fires ignition and another seven minutes passed before the fire engines and firefighters arrived at the scene, at which point the sixth floor was already in flames. The fire fighters took a defensive strategy against the flames: they first fought from the inside of the building but later were forced to retreat and fight it externally. Outside, they used fire hoses from highest aerial platforms available. The fire department concluded that had the fire started on the 10th floor, it would have been almost impossible to control.

The lesson learned from this incident was decisive and clear: automatic sprinklers were the only and best way of curbing fire outbreaks in high-rise buildings.

 
     
 

Visit Additional Major NYC Fires:
Fire of 1776
Fire of 1835
General Slocum Fire (1904)
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (1911)

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Source:
usfa.fema.gov