Earlier this month a high-rise fire in Hell’s Kitchen took the life of a newlywed gay man and critically injured his husband after they attempted to flee their 38th floor apartment via an emergency stairway. The New York Times reported yesterday that even people who knew that they should have stayed in their apartments did the same thing.
A fire safety notice that is supposed to be affixed to every entry door makes clear that staying in place is often the safest strategy during a fire. Most residents interviewed after the fire said they had never seen the notice, had seen it long ago, lost it, or, treated it like a safety information card on an airplane, and simply did not read it. Even among those who knew the rule, many said the first impulse was to run. “The idea of staying in your apartment when there’s a fire sounds wrong,” said George Hahn, 43, who fled with his dog, Smokey, when the fire alarm sounded. Another resident, Nina Regevik, a physician who is a member of an emergency response team created in New Jersey after the Sept. 11 attack, said she was fully aware of the fire safety procedures in her building. But when someone outside her apartment yelled “Fire!” and told everyone to evacuate, she said she defied her training, picked up her cat and fled with her partner. “Despite how many years of training and hearing what one should do, that was totally trumped by hearing someone in a very worrisome voice saying ‘Get out, get out, fire,’ ” she said.
The story notes: “Because the building was constructed of fire-resistant materials, the blaze barely spread. Even residents who remained in apartments directly next door to the fire emerged unscathed.” The surviving gay man remains under sedation and has not yet been told that his husband died. Openly gay City Councilman Corey Johnson, whose district includes Hell’s Kitchen, has introduced a bill that would require emergency public address systems for all buildings taller than six stories.