The New York Police Department has issued mandatory protocols for officers entering buildings in response to fires, after an officer responding to a fire in a Brooklyn high-rise died, reports The New York Times.
The order represents the first effort to formalize such procedures for officers. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton had described the lack of such guidance as a “policy deficiency” and said the department had been working on instructions since the fire on Sunday that killed the officer, Dennis Guerra.
Officer Guerra and his partner, Officer Rosa Rodriguez, responded to a 911 call reporting a fire on the 13th floor of a Coney Island housing development, although they had not been assigned to do so. They took the elevator directly to the floor, and acrid smoke immediately filled the elevator. They radioed for help and then collapsed.
Officer Rodriguez remains hospitalized in critical condition. Officer Guerra, a 38-year-old from Queens with nearly eight years on the force, died on Wednesday of severe smoke inhalation; he was the first officer killed in a fire in the line of duty in nearly three decades. He was mourned at a ceremony at Police Headquarters on Wednesday, where the flags still flew at half-staff on Thursday.
On Monday, the police arrested Marcell Dockery, 16, who lived on the 12th floor of the building and charged him with arson, reckless endangerment and two counts of assault after he told the authorities that he lit a mattress that had been left in the hallway. A grand jury is weighing increasing those charges, possibly to murder.
The instructions for officers were sent to all police precincts on Wednesday night and lay out in detail the steps that police dispatchers and officers should take when heading into a building where there has been a reported fire.
“U.M.O.S. entering the building will walk up to a reported fire whenever possible,” the order reads, referring to uniformed members of the service.
Should officers decide to take an elevator, they are instructed to “look for smoke in the elevator shaft by directing their flashlights through any visible space between the elevator and the open shaft.” They are also told to “stop the elevator every fifth floor and repeat the visual inspection,” and take the stairs at any sight of smoke.
The order hews closely to the approach taken by the Fire Department. If an elevator is used, officers “must exit the elevator, at minimum, two floors below the affected floor and proceed cautiously via the staircase to the affected floor,” the order reads. Officers must report their decision on whether to take the stairs or the elevator to a police dispatcher before heading to the floor.
It also includes some basic fire safety guidance, such as checking doors for heat, staying low to the ground and retreating to a predetermined exit when encountering smoke, heat or flames. “They should ensure that the stairway door remains closed to lessen the risk of a chimney effect, which can draw fire to the stairwell and cause the fire to spread,” the order reads.
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