By Bill Parry
A fatal blaze that tore through a Rockaway Beach high-rise Friday, injuring 17 people, including nine police officers and three firefighters, was ruled accidental by the FDNY, but it could have been prevented, according to several elected officials.
Fire marshals say Ethel Davis, 91, died as a result of her injuries after a halogen lamp came into contact with combustibles in an 11th-floor apartment in the Dayton Beach Park complex along Shore Front Parkway.
Lawmakers called out the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development for lack of oversight in providing annual apartment inspections at the Mitchell-Lama Development Co-op, including state Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach), who lives in the building.
“As a shareholder I am terrified, as an elected official I am disgusted. Something is not right,” Pheffer Amato said Sunday. “Since being elected in 2016, I have expressed concerns regarding the absence of annual apartment inspections within DBP, as well as management and board of director issues. Apartment inspections are not only necessary, but required in order to ensure the safety and quality of life for all shareholders. This fire was an incident waiting to happen.”
Pheffer Amato sent a letter in August, at the request of hundreds of constituents and shareholders, to both HPD and First Service Residential, which managed the complex until December, expressing concerns of the absence of annual apartment inspections and received a response from the city agency that inspections would be conducted by the third week of September. According to residents, inspections have not commenced as of Sunday.
“Months ago, the Housing and Preservation Department said that inspections of this building would happen. They haven’t — and now, tragedy has struck,” city Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “Had it not been for the bravery of the FDNY and NYPD, this situation could have been far worse.
“That inspections didn’t take place is deeply, deeply alarming. The agency must step up and ensure that all regulations are enforced, both in the Rockaways and across the city. This is about the safety of New Yorkers, and it’s about right and wrong.”
Stringer joined Pheffer Amato and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and urged HPD to conduct the inspections and conduct a full review of the mismanagement of the board of directors and the management company.
“HPD takes its oversight of Mitchell-Lama developments extremely seriously,” an HPD spokeswoman said. “This fire was a terrible tragedy, and our hearts go out to the family of the woman who lost her life. Inspections are important for the health and safety of tenants in all buildings, and at Daytona Beach Park, the new management company had sent out notices of inspection.”
Inspections by the new management company were scheduled to begin Tuesday. The FDNY said there was no smoke alarm in the apartment where the fire broke out, and heavy winds made the fire difficult to contain.
“There is nothing worse than a loss of human life that could have been avoided,” state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said. “With the recent fire in Rockaway, if the collective voices of the buildings’ tenants were heard, a person would be alive today. The city needs to do a better job with inspections and working with management companies.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr