Friends of Playwright Killed in Fire Push for Safety Speakers in Stairwells
HELL'S KITCHEN — Friends of a playwright who was killed in a fire in his West Side building on Sunday are pushing officials to require that all high-rise residential towers have a public address system that tells residents whether stairwells are safe during a blaze.
Daniel McClung, 27, and his husband Michael Cohen, 32, were found suffering from severe smoke inhalation in the stairwell of their building at 500 W. 43rd St., after they tried to escape a fire. Both were rushed to the hospital, where McClung was pronounced dead and Cohen remains in recovery.
FDNY officials said McClung would have survived had the couple stayed in their 38th-floor apartment, based on the building's fire safety plan, because the building is fireproof and the blaze started on a lower floor.
An online petition created by Cohen and McClung's friends — which had already collected more than 3,000 signatures as of Thursday morning — asks the city to require residential towers to install speakers that would allow firefighters to provide clear instructions during an emergency. Similar systems are already required in New York City commercial buildings that are 20 stories or taller.
"Residential buildings in New York City aren't held to the same fire safety standards as commercial buildings," the petition says. "This simple and cost-effective solution can save lives by giving first responders the means to communicate when to stay or go!"
Many newer residential buildings already have public address systems, but they're often missing in the city's older high-rises, said Thomas Von Essen, a former FDNY commissioner who has thrown his support behind the petition.
Von Essen plans to join the effort to convince the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to enact a new law on residential high-rises, and he said that retrofitting older buildings would be relatively inexpensive.
"The technology's improved — we've gone into these buildings with all sorts of extra wires for cable and Internet — why not put some speakers?" he said. "The cost, it's minimal, and they even have wireless systems you can use."
Von Essen said he hoped the tragedy of McClung's death could help push forward safety legislation, similar to a 1998 Upper West Side fire that killed four people, leading the City Council to pass a law requiring sprinkler systems in high-rises.
The City Council and de Blasio's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.