News | Upper West Side

104th Street shelter fire reveals 13 violations

After residents said they were trapped inside a burning building on 104th Street this weekend, a city inspection yesterday found no locked doors—but residents are still worried.

The Regent Family Residence, a homeless shelter at 104th Street and Broadway run by the Department of Homeless Services, caught fire in the early morning of Friday, April 15, according to police. The fire, which was extinguished within half an hour, led to 14 residents being taken to Harlem Hospital Center and the relocation of some residents due to water damage.

The fire, the cause of which is still unclear, led Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to call for an immediate inspection of at least a dozen Environmental Control Board violations at the building. In a statement urging for further investigation, Stringer called the allegations of locked emergency exits “disturbing.”

On Tuesday, the city’s Department of Buildings resolved a complaint filed the day of the fire which claimed that some residents were stuck in the building for 15 minutes because the fire door was locked. The updated report says that no blocked or locked exit door was found at the time of inspection on Tuesday.

Resident Linda Hickey, who lives on the 11th floor, explained that the doors were unlocked but very heavy, proving to be a struggle for the shelter’s numerous residents who are “mostly women and children.”

“Some of the people had issues with the emergency doors,” she said, adding that she was able to exit the building without trouble, but knows of others who had difficulties.

Hickey said that she thought the building’s staff tried to evacuate everyone as effectively as possible under the circumstances.

“As far as I’m concerned, the staff here did a beautiful job,” she said. “They alerted everyone.”

But according to an ECB spokesperson, there are currently 13 outstanding building violations at the Regent Family Residence—something resident Elizabeth Reynolds finds concerning amid the other fire safety problems that came to light over the weekend.

Reynolds said she was trapped on the eighth floor of the building with her infant child, daughter, and husband after they noticed flames shooting out from the window of the floor above them. She and her husband tried to block the smoke streaming in under their door with wet blankets, but they were unsure of the location of the fire and how or where to exit the building.

“It took me 40 minutes to get out,” she said, noting that her family didn’t know about the fire until they saw the flames. “Our fire detectors didn’t even go off. The sprinkler system didn’t go off.”

Reynolds said there was confusion about how to exit because the building didn’t have comprehensive fire safety procedures.

“There was no emergency strategy,” Reynolds said, adding that fire drills that she says are supposed to happen twice a week don’t happen.

When the fire broke out, resident Jessica Mitchel was in the building with her children, ages eight and 11. They were all able to get out of the building quickly, and her apartment didn’t suffer property damage.

Still, Mitchel said the fire has made them nervous about the building.

“I might leave because of the fire. My kids are still traumatized by it,” she said, noting that her daughter is bothered by the scent of smoke which still lingers in their rooms.

Reynolds said that even though the building’s administration “threatened the facility [residents] beforehand not to talk to the media and press,” the concerns about safety policy must be discussed.

“Things need to be told about what’s going on in here. Because if not, how’s anyone going to help us?”

emily.neil@columbiaspectator.com

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