Monsey, NY - Journal Editorial: We Praise The Orthodox For Having Good Fire Vol. But They Need To Enforce Buildng Codes Too
Monsey, NY - Building codes save lives. For the safety of workers, residents, families in a building or home, and for the first-responders who rush in when everyone else is rushing out, these codes must be followed and enforced.
This week, a fire at a Kaser synagogue once again turned up a slew of violations, from bars on second-story windows to a lack of smoke detectors and sprinklers. Building and health codes are hardly rules made up just to cite for fines - these are well-thought-out measures that save lives. “Every one of these statutes has dead bodies” traced to them, Rockland Emergency Services director Gordon Wren Jr. told the Editorial Board.
Tuesday’s fire took place at the Khal Kdishas Ley synagogue and study center, which functions as a dormitory, with 21 beds in nine rooms on the second floor. What was found there after flames were quickly knocked down led officials to condemn the structure. Just the window bars alone spell certain danger - the men there would have been unable to flee their rooms in the case of a serious fire. Add to that the other safety and health risks, including loose wiring and the detection of mold.
A real hazard
A rash of building and health code violations turning up during a fire is hardly an isolated occurrence. In 2007, Hillcrest Fire Department threatened to stop covering the Village of New Square because of the imminent danger their volunteers faced fighting fires amid building and safety violations. Real danger lurks for a firefighter faced with a home carved up, rebuilt, changed without following building codes: Turning a corner to find a wall where a hallway was anticipated, having to beat back flames fed by materials stored in an illegal home business. To those who believe such problems are limited to pockets of heavily populated Ramapo, think again.
In January 2005, two FDNY firefighters, including Lt. John Bellew of Pearl River, were forced to jump to their deaths after becoming trapped in an illegally converted Bronx apartment house. Four firefighters, including Jeffery Cool of Garnerville, were critically injured. Wren said that the danger of building code violations can be found in all Rockland neighborhoods. He pointed to illegal apartments tucked into high ranches. “With the economy,” Wren warns, “it’s going to get worse.”
Long a concern
The special situations confronted by volunteer firefighters in Ramapo’s religious communities cannot be ignored. While newer structures are being built to code, often, older structures that are off the code enforcement radar pose risks. It is dangerously too late when violations are discovered amid the chaos of a fire or other emergency.
Kaser Deputy Mayor Shlomo Koenig told the Editorial Board that his village has very stringent codes, especially for multi-family dwellings that meet residents’ needs. “In some cases, our multi-family codes are more stringent than the state fire codes.” Koenig also said that the Monsey Fire Department has been top-notch. “Our village, I believe, is very safe.”
We praise the growing cooperation among the religious community and first-responders, especially with more members of the Orthodox and Hasidic communities volunteering. As well, firefighters in Ramapo have become more sensitized to the community and culture. For example, firefighters understand how to treat religious books and torah - scrolls so holy in Judaism that they are by law accorded a funeral rite. As well, more members of the Orthodox and Hasidic communities are joining the fire service. Those connections, Wren says, are making everyone safer.
That growing understanding must bring remedial action for buildings like the Kaser center to meet codes and create a safe environment for all.
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