NO ONE TO BLAME.
The verdict of the coroner’s jury upon the Attorney street, Manhattan, New York, tenement fire, in which fourteen persons met death on September 4, is that the victims “came to their death by suffocation caused by smoke and flame,” and that no one was directly responsible. Both the building department and the tenement house department are censured for lack of supervision in permitting the fire escapes on the building 154 Attorney street to be taken down during alterations, and permitting those that were left to be obstructed. The jury recommended that a new law be passed fixing responsibility for the condition of buildings in one or other of the departments, instead of allowing the division of responsibility which exists under present laws. Firemen gave details of the burning of the building, and Police Capt. Martin Handy and others testified that there was a drop of eight feet front the fire escape on the second floor to the ground. There was no lire escape ladder from the fourth to the third floor, which caused many lives to be lost. John A. Lee, chief inspector of the tenement house bureau, was asked how such a catastrophe could occur, if a proper inspection of the house had been made. He replied that several plans for remodeling the house had been disapproved, but one had finally been adopted. He declared that he considered the tenement perfectly safe while the repairing was going on. He was sent to find the plans, and on his return declared that, although a careful watch was kept on the building, the fire escapes were removed without his knowledge. Joseph A. Smith, an inspector of the building department, deposed that on August 31 the plans for removing the front and rear walls had been disapproved by his department. He declared he was not required to investigate the fire escapes. The police testified to the usual obstructed condition of the fire escapes. If these had been clear, there would have been fewer deaths. The deaths were all from asphyxiation, not from burning. The coroner said it was a case “where everybody’s business was nobody’s business. There was a conflict of authority between the building and the tenement house departments. and both disregarded their duties.” The jury (he said) could not blame either the owner or the lessee.