By Anthony M. Destefano
NEW YORK — The NYPD issued new guidelines late Wednesday for officers responding to fires in elevator buildings following the death of Officer Dennis Guerra from smoke inhalation suffered during a suspected arson fire last weekend.
A so called "Finest Message" sent to all commands tells officers they shouldn't all use the same elevator and stairwell in case of fire. Cops should walk up to a reported fire whenever possible but if elevators are used, they should take them at least two floors below the fire, the message stated.
Wednesday's new fire policy was issued just hours after housing police officer Guerra died from injuries suffered when he and Officer Rosa Rodriguez responded to a 911 call for a high-rise fire at 2007 Surf Ave. in Coney Island. Guerra and Rodriguez were overcome by smoke as they stepped out of an elevator. Rodriguez remained in critical but stable condition late Thursday, the NYPD said.
The new fire guidelines, which a police spokesman said were in the form of interim orders, took effect as two other NYPD officers suffered smoke inhalation and had to be treated at a hospital Thursday after they helped residents escape from a burning building in Brooklyn. A male sergeant and female police officer from the 90th Precinct needed to be taken to Woodhull Medical Center for treatment after they entered a 4-story, walk-up multiple dwelling at 32 Scholes St. in Williamsburg, according to the NYPD.
An FDNY spokesman said the alarm came in at 12:59 p.m. and the fire in the rear of the structure was under control in about 46 minutes. The two officers, who were not identified, were able to assist several people, none of whom were injured, police said. The officers were doing well, an NYPD spokesman said.
Commenting Thursday at the scene of the Williamsburg fire, Police Commissioner William Bratton said the new guidelines weren't meant to straitjacket officers in the way they responded to fires.
"The nature of policing and firefighting is spontaneous," Bratton acknowledged.
"Officers will do whatever they have to do, as these two officers did," said Bratton as he applauded the two cops who helped out in the Williamsburg fire. A police spokesman said the female officer was the mother of five children and jumped to action when she heard a 1-year-old child crying in the burning building.
Bratton has said the NYPD didn't have policies about police response to high-rise fires. He called that a "deficiency" and said the NYPD will be taking the lead to devise such national protocols.Under the new fire guidelines, officers also shouldn't use the elevator if there is a sign of smoke in the shaft. If there is no elevator shaft smoke, the elevator can be used but should be stopped every fifth floor so the shaft can be inspected again for smoke, the message stated. Cops should leave the elevator at least two floors below an "affected floor" and proceed "cautiously via the staircase," according to the directive.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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