Volume 22, Number 15 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Aug. 21 - 27, 2009

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

There did not appear to be any flowers or memorial Tuesday outside the former Deutsche Bank building, where two firefighters, Joseph Graffagnino Jr., 33, top left, and Robert Beddia, 53 were killed battling a blaze two years ago. A Mass was held near their Soho firehouse.

Quiet anniversary for fatal Deutsche fire

The two years that have passed since the fire at the former Deutsche Bank building have done little to ease the suffering of the victims’ families.

“To us, it’s like it just happened yesterday,” said Joseph Graffagnino Sr., whose son was killed in the fire. “It hasn’t changed anything. We’re still grieving. That’s not going to go away.”

Firefighters Joseph Graffagnino Jr., 33, and Robert Beddia, 53, were killed Aug. 18, 2007 when they responded to a blaze in the Deutsche Bank building. The asbestos-contaminated building, damaged heavily on 9/11, was being cleaned and demolished at the time of the fire, and a slew of unsafe conditions inside the building led to the firefighters’ deaths.

On Tuesday, the two-year anniversary of the fire, Graffagnino and Beddia’s families and fellow firefighters gathered for a Mass in their memory at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua in Soho, near the Engine 24/Ladder 5 firehouse where the men served.

One day earlier, the elder Graffagnino said that he still wants to see the people responsible for his son’s death held accountable. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau indicted three construction supervisors from the project and subcontractor John Galt Corp. with manslaughter late last year, but the D.A. decided not to pursue manslaughter charges against the city or the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which owns the building.

“I’d like to see more,” Graffagnino said this week.

The D.A. is still investigating the decision to hire John Galt, a company with reputed mob ties and no experience. Graffagnino has his own lawsuit pending against the city, the L.M.D.C., contractor Bovis Lend Lease and Galt, but he cannot pursue it until the D.A. finishes his investigation, Graffagnino said.

When Morgenthau announced the indictments last year, Bovis and the city acknowledged wrongdoing and signed an agreement with the D.A. instituting better safety requirements.

The 26-story Deutsche Bank building still stands just as tall as it did two years ago, though it could finally start coming down as soon as next month. The building is slated to be demolished by early spring 2010. The cleanup and demolition cost estimates are now up to about $220 million.

Since the fire, Graffagnino has spoken out against the communication and enforcement gaps at city agencies, which should have overseen the Deutsche Bank work and ensured it was safe. At Graffagnino’s urging, the city has passed some reforms to prevent buildings being decontaminated and demolished from falling through the cracks in the future.

“You’re trying to get some salvation out of it,” Graffagnino said, “to prevent it from happening again.”

— Julie Shapiro

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