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The Bronx, New York, building where 17 people – including eight children – died in a fire earlier this year was to receive a fire inspection before the tragedy, but never did because those tasked with examining the structure have been reassigned to a unit that checked that restaurants were following COVID restrictions, according to a report.
Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the union that represents uniformed emergency medical technicians, paramedics and fire inspectors, testified last week before the city council’s fire and emergency management committee .
“This building was supposed to be inspected, but because they were sent to a task force, this building was not inspected,” he said, according to the New York Daily News.
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New York Fire Department Deputy Chief Inspector Michael Reardon said about 90 fire inspectors have been transferred to different roles related to COVID policies, such as ensuring restaurants meet the requirements of the mandate of vaccination, according to the report.
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“They were reduced to the point that some units were unable to do all the inspections they needed,” Reardon reportedly said.
Seventeen people died – nine adults and eight children – on Jan. 9 when the fire broke out in a 19-story apartment building at 333 East 181st St. in the Fordham Heights neighborhood of the Bronx, officials said. About 200 firefighters responded and more than 60 people were injured, authorities said.
According to initial reports, 19 people were killed in the fire. Authorities later changed the death toll to 17.
Firefighters said the blaze was caused by an “accidental and faulty space heater”. The fire, which started on the second and third floors, was later exacerbated by open doors in part of the building, allowing fire and smoke to spread throughout.
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The building had self-closing doors, but they did not close properly, causing smoke to seep through.
An inspector was due to visit the building to check its riser system about a year before the fire, Barzilay told the Daily News. While not primarily checking doors, an inspector would typically take note of any issues found, such as faulty doors, the report said.
“If they had noticed anything else, they would have looked into the problem,” he told the News.
He reportedly called the circumstances “terrible” and said he did not blame current mayor Eric Adams.
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“I blame the previous administration for not thinking about it,” he told the News.
A spokesperson for Adams’ office did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.