By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
The DOI also blasted "a culture of widespread disregard of the 15-Day Rule," and said it was violated "in commands throughout the Department." That makes it impossible to contend, as Scoppetta and the mayor did, that the FDNY's borough, division, and lower-level chiefs overseeing the bank building did anything out of the ordinary. In fact, when Scoppetta finally issued reprimands against them a few days ago, the charges placed in their file made no reference to any specific failure to inspect the Deutsche building, instead faulting them for general inspection shortcomings.
The reprimands, which will be removed from the files of these chiefs in a year and are among the least punitive forms of administrative discipline, implicitly make the case against Scoppetta and his top brass. They could not press tougher charges against the chiefs, targeting failings at Deutsche, without exposing—at any ensuing administrative trial—their own failure to ever issue any orders or directives compelling compliance with the inspection rules. In fact, the DOI report had to rely repeatedly on the promotional exams that chiefs take as the only notice they ever had to the existence of the 15-Day Rule, a thin reed indeed, since exam preparation covers multiple volumes of department regulations. (Is lawyer Scoppetta responsible for recalling everything he learned for the bar exam?)
Frank Gribbon, the FDNY's spokesman, conceded in a Voice interview that Scoppetta and his top staff had said "nothing about the 15-Day Rule" in any of their regular department orders prior to the fire. He confirmed that William Siegel—the chief whose detailed 2005 memo urging a specific response plan and weekly surveillances for the Deutsche Bank site was used to justify some of the disciplinary actions—had actually been promoted to Scoppetta's cabinet by the time the demolition began in early 2007. Siegel did not, to Gribbon's knowledge, ever mention his own concerns about the site in Scoppetta's weekly executive sessions. That suggests that, at the highest levels in the department, even the two-star chief who'd written the book on the bank building was asleep at the switch. (Siegel, who has since retired, declined to answer questions when reached at his home.)
Research assistance: Johanna Barr, Georgia Bobley, Lucy Jordan, and Sudip P. Mukherjee
Gribbon added that the department was not going to investigate any managerial mistakes made during the fire response, and refused to answer questions about whether it believed any had occurred, despite critics inside and outside of the department who contend that so many firefighters were dispatched without water or purpose that it was fortunate only two were lost. He maintained that "the issue," when Scoppetta went to the firehouse next to the bank, was "protecting the firehouse," and that Scoppetta made Bovis "construct a platform" and "considered" pulling the firefighters out during the demolition, never focusing on inspecting the actual cause of the accident.
Asked if there was any indication, after the Morgenthau and DOI reports, that the mayor was contemplating any actions against Scoppetta or the rest of the executive team, Gribbon said simply, "No." Asked if the mayor was "considering any actions against executives" in the FDNY or DOB, Bloomberg press secretary Stu Loeser sent an e-mail to the Voice recounting instead the disciplinary decisions those executives have taken against lower level staff.
The buildings commissioner at the time of the Deutsche breakdowns was Patricia Lancaster, the first Bloomberg department head to be forced from office. Lancaster's departure in late April 2008, eight months after the fire, occurred the day after she testified at a City Council hearing that the DOB had mistakenly issued permits for an East-side building where a crane collapsed, killing seven people and injuring 24 others. Her ouster was never said to have had anything to do with the fire-connected blunders of her department. Though the mayor acknowledged when Lancaster quit that he didn't "think anybody should be fully satisfied with the DOB's performance," he moved immediately to replace her with first deputy Robert LiMandri.
Neither Morgenthau's nor the DOI's report indicate if either Lancaster or LiMandri was aware of any of the department mistakes in the lead-up to the fire—including the failure to ever do an inspection in the basement. Nor do the reports deal with the question of whether these top executives should have been directly involved in so high-profile a project, if they contended they weren't. A DOI spokeswoman told the Voice that it did not comment on the role of top DOB officials because that "would have been a judgment call," and all DOI was requested by the mayor's office to examine was whether city officials had violated or failed to enforce "any rules" in connection with the fire.
An e-mail to the Voice from the DOB indicated that LiMandri "was aware of the decision" to issue alteration rather than demolition permits "and did not object," observing that, nonetheless, "no investigation has raised any questions about Commissioner LiMandri's role." In fact, without naming LiMandri or Lancaster, the DOI criticized the issuance of an alteration permit and concluded that "regardless of the type of permit issued to a contractor, the DOB should not permit projects to undergo demolition until the abatement process is fully completed," precisely what the DOB is now doing on the site. The FDNY's 176-page report on the fire similarly pointed out in the second paragraph of the first page that "no demolition permit was filed or issued," noting that, instead, the DOB issued alteration permits—a point the FDNY reiterated later in the assessment.