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Sen. Schumer, Rep. Torres pledge federal fire safety measures following Bronx inferno

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged on Tuesday to pursue a four-pronged package of federal fire safety measures after this month’s deadly Bronx blaze, saying that he expects bipartisan support.

Standing outside the Bronx high-rise where a smoky inferno killed 17 people, mostly of West African descent, Schumer (D-N.Y.) detailed the fire safety fixes he said he intends to usher through the Senate.

The plan would include funding for sprinkler systems in low-income housing; improve data collection for federal fire probes; mandate all space heaters have automatic shutoff features; and require self-closing mechanisms on apartment doors in buildings that receive federal funding.

“Action on these points will definitely save lives — that’s what the experts tell us,” Schumer said in a news conference, adding that he expects the passage of the legislation “should be bipartisan, and we should be able to get the legislation passed quickly.”

The blueprint builds on proposals Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) has championed after the devastating tragedy in his Bronx district. He is pushing legislation in the House.

The fire struck at the 19-story Twin Parks North West apartment building after a malfunctioning door allowed smoke to billow out of a third-floor unit, according to authorities.

A space heater, left running for days, sparked the fire, which left a brutal imprint on a building that has long been a magnet for immigrants from Gambia, a small West African country.

It was the deadliest fire in the five boroughs in more than three decades. Eight children perished.

“The federal government has no process in place to investigate major fires in the United States, which is a missed opportunity to learn from history,” Torres said. “It’s a missed opportunity to prevent a repeat of the worst fires.”

He said the legislation that he is pushing with Schumer would empower the U.S. Fire Administration to probe fires like the Bronx blaze.

Torres also continued to hammer a message about the dangers of electric space heaters. The devices, which can be purchased online for under $100, can serve as a last resort for residents in poorly heated apartments.

But they come with significant risks. Torres said space heaters are linked to hundreds of residential fires each year.

He joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) at Twin Parks North West last week to call for federal legislation requiring heat sensors in housing developments that receive federal funding.

In Washington, Torres is leading a fire safety push on two fronts, calling for a freeze of payments to landlords who do not maintain self-closing doors, and automatic shutoff features on the space heaters that crop up in low-income housing complexes.

“People of color in places like the South Bronx often live in conditions that put them at far greater risk of losing everything — their homes, their families, their own lives — from a catastrophic fire,” Torres told reporters. “We have the tools to save lives. All we need is the political will.”

Schumer said he could envision opposition from representatives of the real estate industry or appliance industry, but intends to push the legislation through with help from Republican colleagues.

At one point, the senator held up a small, unplugged space heater, emphasizing that such a device should not be able to run continuously for days. “They should be required to have a shutoff,” Schumer said.

As the senator addressed reporters on Tuesday, 16 days after the fire, happy shrieks of children playing on a nearby playground echoed through the chilly January air.

“There are kids who lived in that building who are never going to play in that play yard again,” Schumer said. “Just think about that.”

 

 

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