New York lawmakers propose heat sensor requirement after deadly Bronx fire

January 18, 2022

Image courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office on Flickr

After the fire that claimed 17 lives at a Bronx apartment building last week, elected officials are brainstorming strategies to prevent future tragedies. Rep. Ritchie Torres and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Monday announced new legislation requiring the installation of heat sensors at federally-owned housing developments. Supported by Mayor Eric Adams, sensors monitor the heat levels within buildings, alerting authorities when they reach unsafe conditions. The monitors can also keep track of when temperatures drop lower than the legal limit.

Fire officials say that a malfunctioning space heater that had been running for days sparked the fire in the East 181st Street hi-rise, Twin Parks North West. Many tenants use space heaters to stay warm when a building’s heating system isn’t sufficient. In fact, city officials say the residents of the building called in five heating complaints within the past two years.

“We have to ask ourselves what was the deeper cost. Why were tenants using fire heaters in the first place? And the answer has to do with the chronic lack of heat and hot water,” Torres said. “Space heaters are often a cry for help and a cry for heat, often an act of desperation for decent and dignified housing.”.

In 2019, the City Council approved legislation sponsored by Torres, then a council member, that sought to identify buildings with temperature violations and heat-related complaints and require the buildings to install “internet-capable” temperature reporting devices for up to two years.

As part of a pilot program that ran between June 2020 and July 2021, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development tested heat sensor technology in 26 federally subsidized apartment buildings. According to Torres, the program resulted in a 56 percent decrease in heat complaints.

Other potential remedies include the requirement of sprinkler systems in all New York City buildings. At Twin Parks North West, only the laundry and compactor rooms had sprinklers.

“We also learned from the firefighters that an old building like this is grandfathered in and doesn’t have sprinklers. That’s unacceptable,” Gillibrand said. “The congressman and I are also going to work on funding to get resources, federal resources to get sprinklers put in all buildings. There should be no grandfathering. Every building in New York City and New York state should have sprinklers. We should never see this kind of devastation again.”

Gillibrand and Torres’ heat sensor legislation will be introduced this week and may be included in the Democrats’ omnibus spending bill this year.


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