By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
The coronavirus pandemic hit New York City hardest and elevated thousands of DC 37 members as frontline, essential workers who protect public health and safety and make New York City run.
From the get-go, Local 2507 Fire Inspectors assigned to a special FDNY task force asked the public to practice social distancing as they distributed face masks in parks and on city streets. Their work includes responding to fires at construction sites and inspecting and testing fire suppression systems in buildings throughout New York so firefighters have the necessary tools, hoses, and access to water to extinguish fires.
It became increasingly apparent that New York’s tough talk and politicians’ bravado were no match for the coronavirus, the deadliest global health crisis to hit humanity since 1919.
In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 claimed tens of thousands of lives. Health experts agree that had government acted sooner, 34% of COVID-19 victims’ lives could have been saved.
As the pandemic spread, Governor Andrew Cuomo shut down New York State, albeit not soon enough. Public interactions and businesses that drive the city’s economy came to a grinding halt.
More than four months into this unprecedented pandemic, New York City has begun a slow and cautious restart of its economic engine.
This reopening is led by Local 2507 Fire Inspectors who are front and center at the challenge to complete rounds of safety inspections at long-shuttered construction zones, restaurants, coffee shops, office towers, residential buildings, and other sites and businesses in the five boroughs.
“We went from zero to 100 in the first days of the pandemic. We are everywhere in everything, from narrow takeout restaurants to large-scale commercial spaces that were closed. We are doing thorough inspections so they can safely reopen,” said Joseph Rogers, an FDNY deputy chief fire inspector.
“Lots of businesses may have let inventory and deliveries pile up in basements, blocking egresses. We have to make sure to check that all utility lines, egresses, and storage areas all meet code and are clear and safe,” he said.
Some 300 Fire Inspectors worked to guarantee public safety and enforce fire safety codes at NYC Health + Hospitals and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene during the peak of the pandemic when hospital intensive care units were filled to capacity.
Local 2507 Inspectors checked the makeshift field hospitals erected in Central Park and at the Javits Center.
Rogers said, “We were there to inspect the oxygen supply lines and gas connections for generators and heaters, sprinkler systems, egresses, carbon monoxide levels, you name it, we do it all when it comes to safety inspections.”
They inspected trailers outside hospitals being used as temporary morgues for the ever-growing number of dead. At other hospitals, Inspectors were on hand to check oxygen supply lines that health workers needed to connect patients to lifesaving respirators and other monitors.
The pandemic nearly overwhelmed the city’s public healthcare system and its resilient workforce that includes DC 37 members in 11 locals.
“We were at it 13 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Local 2507’s Darryl Chambers, a Manhattan-based FDNY deputy chief fire inspector in the Construction, Demolition and Abatement Unit.
Fire Inspectors coordinate with the Department of Buildings and other agencies to ensure public safety at construction sites that are reopened in Phase 1 after being closed for at least three months.
They visit homeless shelters and juvenile homes, NYCHA public housing buildings, daycare centers and nursing homes, tony restaurants and tiny coffee shops, hair salons, school cafeterias, and more to ensure these facilities are safe.
While New York City has turned a corner in this pandemic, it has not entirely defeated the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
There is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19. The virus changed the world and claimed the lives of more than 138,000 Americans and at least 25,000 New Yorkers, while sickening 2.2 million more.
Worldwide, the coronavirus infected nearly 8 million people and claimed more than 500,000 lives to date. The deadly virus decimated the economies of most developed nations.
“Our Fire Inspectors are the unsung heroes of our city. They are the reason why fire deaths are at an all-time low in New York City,” said Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay, who also represents FDNY EMTs and Paramedics who are first responders in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, they not only continued inspections, they were out there enforcing social distancing guidelines and making sure establishments weren’t violating the rules established by state authorities,” he said.
Barzilay said the local lost two Fire Inspectors to COVID-19. FPI Edward Mungin was an eight-year FDNY veteran and supervisor who worked in Brooklyn overseeing Fire Inspectors who checked buildings used as shelters. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Deputy Chief Fire Inspector Syed Rahman, a 22-year FDNY veteran responsible for the day-to-day management of Inspectors who audits potentially high-risk buildings under construction, demolition, or asbestos abatement, also succumbed to COVID-19. He is survived by his wife Sadia and two children.
Because of the work they do, Fire Inspectors are critical to the safe reopening of New York City.
“Before COVID-19, we had never experienced a complete shutdown in New York,” Rogers said. “Now our inspectors are fluid, experienced, and ready should we face a recurrence.”
Local 2507 Fire Inspectors oversaw the explosive fireworks for the Macy’s Independence Day spectacle on July 4.