Updated 08/18/2008 07:33 PM
City Marks Year Since Deutsche Bank Fire
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As the city marked the first anniversary Monday of the deadly fire at the former Deutsche Bank Building in Lower Manhattan, a grand jury weighed whether anyone – including city officials – should face charges in connection with the deaths of two firefighters killed in the blaze.
Hundreds packed Engine 24 Ladder 5 on Houston Street Monday morning for the memorial service and plaque dedication in honor of fallen firefighters Robert Beddia and Joseph Graffagnino. Family, friends, and elected officials were on hand to pay tribute to the two men who died battling the seven-alarm blaze.
"Bobby and Joe were both very different from one another, but both showed a fearless devotion to duty and a great steadfast allegiance to this great city," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the ceremony.
Firefighters Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, were killed in the blaze.
Investigators believe the fire that killed them last August was started by a lit cigarette.
Graffagnino's father said those responsible must be held accountable.
"I think they should be tried for murder," said Joseph Graffagnino Senior. "If they screw off in a building and they deliberately do things that are wrong in the building, just to pocket money, and people die because it, then they should be held accountable. In my point of view, that's first-degree murder."
An investigation revealed the fire was started by a lit cigarette tossed aside by a worker preparing to dismantle the building. Further investigations found that a standpipe that could have provided water to combat the fire had been disconnected in the basement, staircases were sealed with plywood and plastic and inspections that should have been completed were not.
Reports say several safety violations were recorded before the fire. Not only were workers smoking inside the building, but they may have also been using a barbecue grill.
A grand jury has been meeting since November and published reports say criminal charges could be filed – possibly against city agencies and officials for not enforcing safety regulations. The Manhattan District Attorney's office wouldn't comment but the Fire Commissioner says he believes criminal charges against anyone in his department are unlikely.
"That's a lot of speculation and quite frankly, I would be surprised if anyone in the Fire Department were charged," responded Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
The city's Lower Manhattan Development Corporation was supervising the work to take down the building and there is speculation the LMDC and officials there could also be targets of the grand jury investigation.
"It's not clear to me exactly what that means," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "In my heart of hearts I can tell you that I don't believe anyone did anything to deliberately make that building less safe."
Other reports say criminal charges including racketeering, money laundering and knowingly violating safety regulations could be brought against contractor Bovis Lend Lease and John Galt, the subcontracting company hired to tear the building down.
The grand jury could release its findings as soon as September.