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The Risk of Fires at Community Centers

Community centers play such a vital role in our city. Neighborhoods use these buildings as gathering places and places of education, and they serve the communities on many levels. However, as in any other public locations, there are always risks involved. A community center is no exception, although there is often a personal sting when a tragedy occurs there.  Today we are going to look at a tragedy that happened right here in our city, in Yonkers, New York. Sadly, at this Jewish community center, 12 individuals lost their lives.

On December 20, 1965, just before 5 pm, a fire began in the balcony of the 2nd and 3rd stories of the Jewish Community Center in Yonkers. Although the building was undergoing renovations, it was still open for use. At the time of the fire, 60-70 people were on location. In what appeared to be a result of arson, the investigation revealed that a person used an unidentified flammable liquid to start a fire at one end of the balcony, near the stage. In just a short time, the fire spread to plastic panels and combustible material in the balcony.

When the fire was discovered, teachers and children began to take shelters in several classrooms nearby. Other teachers escorted children out an open window to a ledge where they awaited rescue. Sadly, there were some casualties. Because there was smoke and heat in the hallways and stairways, 2 adults and 9 children took shelter in a small room, next to another room where a teacher and children had taken shelter. A 3rd woman came back into the building looking for her neighbor's children, after leading her own children out, and joined the 11 people in that room. Unfortunately, the door was left open with a chair in front of it, and all 12 individuals in that corner room lost their lives from smoke and heat before the firefighters could reach them.

The investigation after the fire revealed that all the combustible materials in the balcony were completely consumed, and those on the floor were only partially burned. Evidence showed that the flames rose 2 stories during the fire.

This sad account should emphasize to us the importance of fire safety practices. The very first thing we see is that a closed-door in that classroom could have saved lives. Another factor is the combustibility of the materials on the balcony. Flameproofing could have significantly changed the outcome in this situation, as objects and materials treated with fire retardants are no longer combustible and therefore do not contribute to the spread and severity of a fire. It also could have allowed for conditions to be right for everyone to safely evacuate.

It's not clear if the community center was up to FDNY codes during the time of the renovations, but this should only emphasize to use how important it is to follow all legal and safety codes, especially as it pertains to fire safety.

If your business needs flameproofing services, Manhattan Flameproofing is here to help. We have been serving NYC and the Greater Metro NY area for over 5 decades, and we would be pleased to offer our services to keep your business protected from fire. Give us a call today and we can answer any questions and provide you with a free, no-obligation estimate: 1-800-268-7993


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