By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: NY Times, September 30, 2003

Filed at 6:54 p.m. ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- A stricter fire code and a more organized inspection system might have prevented a dramatic explosion last year in a Manhattan building that injured dozens of people, investigators said Tuesday.

In its report on the blast, the U.S Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said New York's 85-year-old fire code ``lacks many modern requirements for hazardous materials safety.''

``We are recommending fairly extensive revisions to the fire code of New York, if not a new fire code,'' said Jordan Barab, who oversees the board's investigative recommendations.

The blast erupted in the 11-story building's basement, where a commercial sign-making company stored hazardous chemicals and was mixing incompatible waste -- nitric acid and lacquer thinner, investigators said.

The explosion came just seven months after the World Trade Center attack, fraying the nerves of a still-rattled city. The building facade collapsed onto a Chelsea street, and people on upper floors had to break windows and jump to safety after the explosion sent flames up the elevator shaft and a stairwell.

Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon said the department is considering adopting a new code, but added the explosion also ``involved the violation of existing laws and codes.''

Mayor Michael Bloomberg echoed the fire department's claim that laws were broken.

"We've just got to step up our inspections and enforcement of the law, and make sure that doesn't happen again,'' Bloomberg said.