Trump Tower and other skyscrapers across New York City have a critical design flaw that makes them more dangerous during fires

  • On Saturday, a fire broke out on the 50th floor of Trump Tower in New York City. The blaze killed Todd Brassner, a 67-year-old resident who worked as an art dealer.
  • In the late 1990s, Donald Trump lobbied against putting sprinklers in his skyscrapers in the city, arguing that it would be too expensive.
  • Developers of skyscrapers built before 1999 still aren’t legally obligated to retrofit their buildings with sprinklers, potentially making the structures more dangerous.

Over the weekend, an apartment on the 50th floor of Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan caught ablaze. Firefighters arrived to find the unit’s resident, a 67-year-old art dealer named Todd Brassner, unconscious in his apartment, which was engulfed in flames.

He was later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at a press conference Saturday evening. Four firefighters also received non-life-threatening injuries.

In response to the fire, President Donald Trump tweeted that evening, “Fire at Trump Tower is out. Very confined (well built building). Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”

While the fire was relatively contained, the units on Trump Tower’s upper floors are missing sprinklers, according to authorities. Sprinklers would have immediately helped combat the flames inside Brassner’s apartment.

This design flaw is not unique to Trump Tower. A number of older skyscrapers across New York City also lack sprinklers, because the city doesn’t require developers to install them.

Following two deadly fires in New York City towers in 1998 (one at a retirement facility, the other at a residential building), the Giuliani administration called for legislation that would mandate sprinklers in high-rises. As The Washington Post notes, sprinklers – or the lack thereof – contributed to the deaths in both fires. The first building’s sprinklers did not work, and the South Park Towers did not have sprinklers on their residential floors.

TheNew York Post reported in 1999 that Trump personally “called a dozen council members to lobby against sprinklers,” citing cost concerns.

When New York’s city council passed the bill in March 1999, it mandated sprinklers in all new residential buildings and existing structures that undergo renovations totaling at least 50% of their value. But towers built before 1999 were exempt, and could remain without sprinklers.

The missing sprinklers likely make New York City’s skyscrapers more dangerous in the event of fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, sprinklers control or suppress a fire 97% of the time. The Society of Fire Protection Engineers, a professional association of fire-safety experts, calls the automatic sprinkler system a building’s “first line of defence” against fires.

Trump Tower opened in 1983 and only has sprinklers on the first 10 floors, which have commercial tenants. To make matters worse, Brassner’s apartment was 50 stories above ground, making it harder for the FDNY to reach him quickly.

Jerome Rose, a survivor of the South Park Towers fire in 1998, is pushing for the city to require developers to retrofit their skyscrapers with modern fire-safety systems.

“What the city of New York does not understand is that every one of these high-rise apartment buildings that doesn’t have sprinklers in them … they’re fire traps,” Rose told ABC News over the weekend. “I’m still angry because it’s a damn cover-up, and the city has covered this up for years and years.”

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