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Manhattan blaze recalls 9/11

Two firefighters die and six are hurt in a bank building abandoned after the attack.

August 19, 2007|Matthew Chayes | Newsday

NEW YORK — Two New York firefighters died Saturday battling a major blaze at the former Deutsche Bank building just south of ground zero, in a haunting scene in Lower Manhattan reminiscent of Sept. 11, officials said.

"Our city has worked hard to recover from that awful day in September almost six years ago, and today's sad events extend the sacrifice that this fire department has made," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference at a downtown hospital, where firefighters gathered. "We will honor their memories as we have all of their fallen brothers'."

One of the firefighters killed was identified as Joseph Graffagnino, 34, of Brooklyn. He was a member of Ladder 5, which lost 11 members on Sept. 11. Also killed was Robert Beddia, 53, of Staten Island. Bloomberg said both firefighters had become trapped, inhaled a great deal of smoke and gone into cardiac arrest.

"Today's events really are another cruel blow to our city and to our fire department," Bloomberg said. He said the fire had "expanded our loss."

Six other firefighters were being treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries.

The fire started about 3:40 p.m. in the building at 130 Liberty St. The structure was 41 stories on Sept. 11; construction workers have been taking it apart floor by floor for months.

The abandoned skyscraper has been the subject of long court battles and concerns over toxic contamination and the presence of remains. It was heavily damaged when the World Trade Center's south tower collapsed into it. City officials announced in June that they had completed recovery efforts at the structure, where more than 700 human remains were found.

About 275 firefighters battled the blaze, which was still burning Saturday night. A fire official said the building did not have functioning standpipes, which would have allowed firefighters to tap into a water source faster. Instead, they had to use ropes to pull up the hoses. The cause and the origin of the fire were unknown.

Construction workers were doing asbestos abatement work in the building, which now reaches about 26 stories, when the fire started.

A spokeswoman for Bovis Lend Lease, the company in charge of cleaning and dismantling the building, declined to comment. Though the fire sparked concerns about poor air quality and a potential building collapse, causing nearby residents to be temporarily evacuated, Bloomberg said there was nothing to worry about.

"There is no danger whatsoever," he said.

"Air quality and the environmental impact, as you might imagine, are top concerns to us, and we are monitoring the situation very closely."

More results from environmental tests were expected this morning.

This report contains information from the Associated Press.

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