A week after a fire devastated one Bronx neighborhood and took 17 lives, elected officials are looking for solutions to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Rep. Ritchie Torres and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand proposed legislation on Monday that would require federally subsidized housing, like the site of the Bronx fire, have heat sensors. The sensors would monitor heat levels in buildings and alert authorities to unsafe conditions.
"If you call 311 to complain about heat and hot water, there is often a lag time between when a tenant calls 311 and when the inspector actually arrives,” Torres said. "And so the best hope for creating a more efficient system of housing code enforcement is technology. Particularly heat sensors. Heat sensors would enable the real time reporting of heating levels in each and every apartment.”
Officials say the fire at Twin Parks North West started because of a malfunctioning space heater. Sources tell NY1 there were multiple space heaters in one of the apartments operating for an extensive period of time.
According to city data, residents at the building called in five 311 complaints regarding heat and hot water within the past two years. While that is a relatively low number, Torres says heating complaints and violations often go unreported.
Torres says he helped implement a similar pilot program at about two dozen buildings while he was on the City Council. Between 2020 and 2021, sensors were installed in 26 buildings. And as a result, according to Torres, heating complaints at the participating buildings dropped by 56%.
It’s unclear what the fate of this legislation would be in Washington. Torres says it’s possible Democrats could put this type of proposal in an omnibus spending bill this year.
Officials are examining other possible fixes in the aftermath of the fire. Gillibrand floated the idea of requiring sprinklers in all buildings in New York City. Twin Parks North West did not have sprinklers in its apartments, but only in its compactor and laundry rooms. Often older residential buildings in New York City do not have sprinklers.
"We also learned from the firefighters that an old building like this is grandfathered in and doesn't have sprinklers,” Gillibrand said following a tour of the damage. "That's unacceptable. And so the congressman and I are also going to work on funding to get resources, federal resources to get sprinklers put in all buildings. There should be no grandfathering. Every building in New York City and New York state should have sprinklers. We should never see this kind of devesation again."