FDNY Readies for Tower Fires

By Wil Cruz

October 19, 2003

A day after a fire in a high-rise building in Chicago killed six people and injured several others, city firefighters simulated perilous fire situations at the new Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle.

Some 85 firefighters conducted a full-scale drill yesterday morning at the 80-story high-rise, which is still under construction, where they practiced dealing with scenarios such as water problems and locating missing people.

"We went through the whole gamut," said Capt. Jim Hodgens, battalion chief of Engine Co. 9. "We tried to make it as real as possible; the guys responded well."

Hodgens said the department has been holding drills at the building - which will be home to commercial, hotel and private establishments - for about eight months. Yesterday's was the first full-scale drill, he said. The hotel part of the complex is scheduled to open next month.

"We knew this building was opening up," Hodgens said, "so we took a more proactive stance to get our units ready for this building."

The drill, which had been scheduled earlier, followed the Friday afternoon Chicago blaze, in which about a dozen people were found dead or unconscious, mostly in a smoky stairwell in which victims were trapped. The building, which houses city and state government offices, has 35 floors.

At the Time Warner Center at 80 Columbus Circle, firefighters simulated a blaze on the 65th floor, Hodgens said. The drills were performed on the top 25 or so floors, which are scheduled to be private residences.

The Chicago blaze and yesterday's drill evoked memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy and how people were initially advised not to evacuate the Twin Towers. Hodgens said that in most cases, the department sticks by that credo.

"What happened on 9/11 was catastrophic," he said. "[But] we still stand by that policy; we want them to stay in place until we tell them otherwise."

Since the terrorist attack, the Fire Department has performed more drills, particularly in skyscrapers.

"We train more. We're trying to get ready for the possibility of something like that [happening] again," Hodgens said, referring to another terrorist attack.