Velazquez Writes NYCHA on Smoke Alarms and Fire Safety
Washington, DC – Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) wrote today to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) regarding a Department of Investigation study that found neglect of smoke alarms and fire protocols at the LaGuardia Houses, and other New York City public housing apartments. The DOI report also found that NYCHA maintenance staff has falsified a number of documents claiming to have performed safety checks when, in fact, they had not.
“If NYCHA employees are falsifying work orders and other documentation related to fire safety, there needs to be a full accounting of the facts,” Velázquez said. “I hope to hear back from the agency swiftly on this critical safety issue.”
The text of the letter is below:
October 18, 2016
Chair, New York City Housing Authority
New York, NY 10007
Dear Chair Olatoye:
I am deeply concerned about the findings in the October 2016 report conducted by the New York City Department of Investigation (“DOI”) which revealed routine neglect of smoke alarms and fire protocols in public housing apartments by the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”) as well as the falsification of key documents by NYCHA maintenance staff. Safety and security of NYCHA residents remains my number one priority when it comes to public housing, and I am writing today to request further information in order to remediate the report’s findings as quickly as possible.
On the night of April 13, 2016, an apartment fire at NYCHA’s Butler Houses in the Bronx killed two young girls. Neighbors and first responder witnesses were reported as not hearing smoke alarms at the time of the fire. This tragedy prompted the DOI to conduct an investigation of these events which discovered a NYCHA maintenance worker had been inside the apartment only hours before the fire, and filed false paperwork stating that he had tested the apartment’s smoke alarms and found they were functioning properly when, in fact, they were not.
As you know, both NYCHA rules and New York City law require NYCHA to install at least one smoke detector in every apartment at tenant move-in, and NYCHA procedures require that smoke detectors be checked to determine they are operational each time that maintenance personnel enters a unit. In order to document these critical maintenance checks, NYCHA work orders require maintenance staff to document the presence and conditions of six critical apartment safety issues, including: the placement of fire safety procedure stickers on the inside of a unit’s door; a working Carbon Monoxide (“CO”) detector; proper placement of window guards; a working smoke detector; a functioning Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlet, where present; and a self-closing door. These safety checks must be completed and reported on NYCHA’s work order as “satisfactory,” “unsatisfactory,” or “corrective action” taken.
Following the events of the Butler Houses’ fire, the DOI conducted a deeper investigation to determine whether NYCHA maintenance staff were inspecting, addressing, and reporting critical apartment safety items when assigned to conduct routine maintenance work in NYCHA units Citywide. DOI inspected a total of 240 apartments in five NYCHA developments around the City, including at the LaGuardia Houses on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in order to review and document the condition of the six critical safety items. DOI investigators observed deficiencies in one or more of the six critical safety items in 128 of the 240 apartments, including numerous missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and missing or damaged fire safety notices. The DOI also found that original NYCHA work orders had not been properly maintained by NYCHA management offices and could not be located. After comparing original work orders with DOI’s own inspection results, DOI investigators determined that in 40 out of 136 apartments where original work orders were available, NYCHA maintenance staff had failed to report that smoke or CO detectors were missing, damaged, or not functioning.
At the LaGuardia Houses specifically, DOI conducted inspections of 43 apartment units where previous work orders had been performed and found 18 apartment units with observed safety deficiencies, and 5 out of 28 apartment units had discrepancies between NYCHA maintenance staff reports that reported smoke and CO alarms were functioning properly and DOI observations which revealed that they were not.
The failure of NYCHA maintenance personnel and supervisory staff to properly report safety deficiencies, perform routine spot checks, properly maintain key documents, and falsify work orders is an egregious violation of public trust and exposes NYCHA residents at the LaGuardia Houses and other NYCHA developments to serious harm.
While I appreciate NYCHA’s acceptance and willingness to implement the recommendations put forth by the DOI, which I believe will help provide NYCHA with more accountability in the future, a number of key pieces of information are still left unclear. Therefore, I am requesting the following pieces of information be made available to members of my staff:
• When does NYCHA expect to complete full implementation of all five of the recommendations put forth by the DOI in its report?
• Will NYCHA conduct its own investigation of all of the units at the LaGuardia Houses and the other NYCHA developments that were made part of the DOI’s report to ensure critical apartment safety issues are up-to-date and functioning properly?
• What steps is NYCHA taking to promote fire safety and preparedness amongst NYCHA residents, particularly amongst children?
• What steps is NYCHA taking to increase coordination with the New York City Fire Department in order decrease the FDNY’s response time to NYCHA developments?
When it comes to public housing, there is no greater priority than protecting the health and safety of our families, friends, and neighbors. The findings in the DOI’s report are a danger to NYCHA residents and NYCHA must take the matter seriously.
Thank you in advance for your efforts on this matter.
Nydia M. Velazquez
Member of Congress
Mark Peters, Commissioner, New York City Department of Investigations
Daniel Nigro, Fire Commissioner, New York City Fire Department
# # #