New York - Rockland Officials Ask State To Take Over Fire Safety In Ramapo And Spring Valley
New York - Charging both the Village of Spring Valley and the Town of Ramapo with negligence in the highest order for failing to enforce zoning and fire safety codes, a group of Rockland County elected officials called for immediate state intervention in order to prevent potential tragedy.
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski and Rockland County Executive Ed Day were flanked by Senator David Carlucci and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee as well a contingent of approximately two dozen volunteer firefighters at a press conference held this morning at the Rockland County Fire Training Center in Pomona.
Zebrowski described conditions in both Spring Valley and Ramapo as “not only deplorable but illegal” and gave a multi-year timeline that detailed a long history of schools that have been operating with temporary certificates of occupancy that are several years old. Zebrowski noted that many of these schools have since added trailers to house their growing enrollment, further undermining students’ safety and that the violations are equally shocking in illegally converted homes that may house many more occupants than allowed by law.
While the state has been notified of these failures and has found no compliance with even minimum standards in some cases, Zebrowski charged that little has changed, with many schools and buildings found to have never been inspected.
“These conditions are a tragedy waiting to happen,” said Zebrowski calling on the state to take over for the buildings departments in both municipalities or allowing the County to step in instead.
As previously reported on VIN News, a Town of Ramapo fire inspector has been placed on modified duty after a state inspection found serious violations at a property he had certified as up to code just weeks earlier.
Zebrowski, who introduced his grandfather Al, a volunteer firefighter in Rockland for more than 60 years, also called upon the state to discontinue funding to any school that does not have an up to date fire safety certificate.
Holding up a stack of press releases and a collection of ten letters written by Zebrowski to state officials, Day declared that strong words were a good start but not enough to save lives.
“We need action based on words or we can use this paper as kindling for the next fire,” said Day.
Day noted that he would do everything in his power to ensure that buildings in the county, particularly schools, are safe and code compliant, allowing the county’s all volunteer fire force to do their jobs for the 300,000 people who call Rockland County home.
“These are not numbers,” said Day. “These are children. Are we going to wait to see children coming out in body bags because they couldn’t get out?”
Fire Commissioner Gordon Wren said that his volunteers have been shocked to find almost no enforcement in the county and that violations are rarely taken seriously. Wren singled out a property at 33 Forshay Road, home to Congregation Ateres Yisroel, which was fined last year for having an illegal dormitory and criticized the Town of Ramapo for looking the other way. Owners of the property, which include a wood frame single story home and three trailers, were hit with 19 violations two years ago after inspectors found a working matza bakery on the premises as reported by The Journal News.
Retired firefighter Jeff Cool of the FDNY who was injured jumping out of a fourth floor window of an illegally converted burning building in the Bronx in 2005 said that slumlords must be held accountable for their actions, which he said are motivated by nothing other than greed.
“When a child dies in a fire, those memories, they haunt you forever,” said Cool.
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