February 13, 2015

Stored Archived Documents Burn in Brooklyn Warehouse Fire

A stubborn weekend fire at a Brooklyn document warehouse that unleashed a blizzard of singed paperwork over Williamsburg could smolder for several more days, city officials said Sunday. The fire at the CitiStorage (not affiliated with Financial Services corporation Citigroup, Inc) document-storage building pumped towering columns of smoke across Brooklyn for more than 24 hours starting early Saturday. No one was hurt in the blaze, and its cause remained under investigation, said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

More than 60 units and 275 firefighters were on the scene during the height of the fire. It was the first seven-alarm fire in New York City since July 2012, according to the Fire Department of New York. Three employees who work overnight at the four-story warehouse were being interviewed, said Mr. Nigro, adding that the building was regularly inspected by the FDNY. The blocks near the fire scene were littered with charred papers representing several medical institutions across the region.

The documents included doctors’ notes, intake forms, pharmacy records, test results, wills, time cards, payroll records and checks. Some documents were marked confidential. Others had social-security numbers and sensitive medical information.

The rugged winter weather made for difficult working conditions for the FDNY. Officials said high winds fanned the blaze, and firefighters were forced to tread carefully because some of the water from their hoses formed sheets of ice underfoot. “It’s a building full of fuel,” Mr. Nigro said. “It’s a building full of paper. Once it got started, it was difficult to extinguish especially under the extraordinarily rough conditions for the firefighters…” The firefighting produced ice-sculpture images as water blasted from hoses coated parked cars and the skeletal frame of the building.

The FDNY responded to the fire at 4:30 a.m. Saturday and discovered a small fire being knocked down by the sprinkler system. That fire was extinguished, but firefighters returned at 6:28 a.m. to find a larger one. The building is on the East River and runs a half-block between North 11th and North 12th streets, toward Kent Avenue. Smoke soon lifted high and wide over a swath of the trendy neighborhood nearby and beyond.

Andrew and Mickelle Craft live five blocks from the fire and were awakened Saturday by the smell of smoke. Ms. Craft initially thought the fire was inside her home. “We saw papers and everything, burnt and flying in the air,” Ms. Craft said. Ron McMurtrie, a spokesman for Recall, confirmed that Norman Brodsky owns the 11-acre parcel where the storage business is located. “It appears that the site is a total loss,” said Mr. McMurtrie. Mr. Brodsky said the blaze likely also destroyed many of his personal possessions. “I cried,” he said, on his reaction when arriving at the fire Saturday. “I built those buildings. That business was like my baby.’ The “only blessing” was that no one was hurt, he said.

The warehouse primarily held medical, legal and financial records from hundreds of clients. Documents found on the street carried the letterheads and logos of St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Harlem Hospital Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, Long Island Jewish Health System and others. A spokesman for North Shore-LIJ said documents lost were primarily medical records, legal documents, personnel and administrative files, but the vast majority of the system’s files were stored elsewhere. The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation uses Citi-Storage for storing old records, according to spokesman Ian Michaels.

“Fortunately, as an early adopter of electronic medical record systems, HHC keeps vital patient records in electronic form and we do not anticipate this will affect our patient-care operations,” he said. On Sunday, ash coated sidewalks and cars several blocks away from the fire scene. Private cleanup crews were dispatched to the neighborhood to dredge soaked medical documents from the East River shoreline.

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