NYC fire safety bill to be submitted without '11th-hour changes' after pressure from FDNY

The bill was written after FDNY Lt. Michael Davidson was killed during a fire on a film set in 2018

Thomas Tracy, Michael Gartland and John Annese
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A City Council bill written after a 2018 blaze killed a firefighter on the set of the film “Motherless Brooklyn” won’t include last-minute amendments the FDNY commissioner warned would have let Hollywood skate on safety requirements.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro and the city’s firefighters union blasted what the commissioner described as “11th-hour changes” to a Council bill before its submission.

A New York City fire safety bill, written after the death of FDNY Lt. Michael Davidson on the set of the film
A New York City fire safety bill, written after the death of FDNY Lt. Michael Davidson on the set of the film "Motherless Brooklyn," will be submitted without additional amendments that were opposed by FDNY and union leaders. (AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz)

The new language “would undercut the safety measures that these bills are intended to provide” by limiting the FDNY’s ability to assign more than one fire safety manager to a film set, Nigro wrote in a Feb. 14 letter to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Nigro criticized other proposed changes to the bill, writing: “It appears that the industry is seeking to create grounds upon which they can later litigate against any rules that they don’t like.”

The apparent changes also drew heat from the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the widow of FDNY Lt. Michael Davidson.

Davidson, 37, was trapped inside the cluttered basement of the Harlem movie set at 773 St. Nicholas Ave. near W. 149th St. on March 23, 2018 when he was overcome by toxic smoke and ran out of air.

A FDNY Safety Command report concluded that changes to the building made by actor and director Edward Norton’s film company concealed the true extent of the blaze, and the department was never notified of the alterations.

That meant the firefighters didn’t know which door and windows were real as they navigated the building-turned-film-set. The sprinkler system also failed, and there were highly flammable materials on set, records show.

On Tuesday, Joe Borelli (R- Staten Island), one of the bill’s sponsors, confirmed that language won’t be in the bill when it’s submitted.

“If an unscrupulous landlord put up fake partitions in a building and someone died, they would go to jail,” he said. “The film industry was allowed to do this without any repercussions.”

It wasn’t clear if the amendments were ever added to the bill or if they were just proposed, and if so, by whom. Borelli said he wasn’t aware of the amendments ever being added.

“The City Council values the input and perspective of Commissioner Nigro and the FDNY on Int. 1849,” said Council spokesman Juan Soto. “We share the mutual goal of keeping the members of the FDNY as safe as possible, and reached an agreement addressing the commissioner’s concerns. There was never any intention to change the bill in any way that would jeopardize safety.”

The bill would give the FDNY authority to designate a fire safety manager, set specific rules for film sets and conduct periodic inspections.

“We’re very very happy in the end,” UFA Vice President Bobby Eustace said Tuesday, thanking the City Council for sticking with the bill. “There did seem to be some resistance, which seems kind of incredible when you really think about it, what it comes down to. But that seems to be the unfortunate game when it comes to politics.”

Davidson’s widow, Eileen Davidson, called the final status of bill “a relief.”

“A lot went into this behind the scenes. We’re very thankful,” she said. ”We just appreciate that it’s going to be seen through the way it deserves to be seen through.”

Eileen Davidson got a judge’s OK last year to sue Norton’s production company for punitive damages.


(c)2021 New York Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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