Volume 23, Number 5 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 11 - 17, 2010
Neighboring fire cause for alarm at 60 Hudson
By Nikki Dowling
The 23-story building at 60 Hudson Street in Downtown Manhattan houses more than just residents — it also stores more than 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Concern over the oil, which is used to power generators, came to a head on May 18 when a fire started in the adjacent Ace Hardware. Smoke traveled to 60 Hudson, the former Western Union building, setting off the alarm system and scaring locals.
“It’s been a major source of concern for residents because there’s so much diesel fuel stored in the basement of this building,” Diem Tran, spokesperson for State Senator Daniel Squadron, said.
On Friday, members of the Downtown community gathered to voice their concerns about the noise, fumes and potential danger of 60 Hudson.
“60 Hudson has always been an issue,” Catherine McVay Hughes, vice chairperson of Community Board 1, said. “That incident is a wake-up call for the management of 60 Hudson to be a much better neighbor than they are.”
Senator Squadron and New York City Councilmember Margaret Chin headed up the meeting, which included a panel of people from the FDNY, the Department of Buildings, the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Protection and representatives from 60 Hudson.
“I am extremely concerned about this building and the threat it poses to the neighborhood,” Chin said in a statement. “It is my understanding that there has not been a truly comprehensive inspection of 60 Hudson Street in some time. There are many families and individuals in the immediate area who are at serious risk given their proximity to the building.”
“I do have to say that I was a little bit frustrated that I only got a response after this incident,” Squadron said.
The panel assured residents that the fire earlier this month was not serious and said the oil is well insulated. They explained safety procedures to assuage residents’ fears.
“We are aware of the sensitivity of the location and we pay close attention to anything that happens at 60 Hudson,” a representative from the Office of Emergency Management said.
A fire safety official is present at 60 Hudson 24/7. The building has a risk management plan that was approved by city agencies and undergoes a full review by the Department of Environmental Protection every March. The diesel fuel is encased in walls that would take several hours to burn.
However, representatives of the building agreed to put a pedestrian-friendly alert system in the display windows at 60 Hudson to dissuade concerns and inform the Downtown community. Unusual incidents will be explained and residents will be alerted when loud noises are to be coming from the building.
“Knowing that you know what’s going on is a big relief,” a community member said.
Some residents pushed for a more proactive alert system, requesting that they be notified via e-mail of any unusual activities at 60 Hudson.
“Simple e-mail — advanced notification — goes a long way towards alerting the community,” Hughes said.
Representatives from the building agreed to look into an e-mail alert system. Electronic notification would be sent out to a predetermined list of concerned local residents and community leaders so they could spread the word.
“I have to say there was a time when the building let us know when there was going to be an unusual run of the generators and that was really helpful,” a representative from Neighbors Against NOISE, an organization that works to reduce disturbing noise levels, unhealthy air pollution, and fire risk, said.
The Department of Buildings waived standard fire safety regulations to allow for storage of large amounts of fuel in 60 Hudson that would otherwise be illegal. Neighbors Against NOISE complains that the industrial air conditioning units and back-up generators create unacceptable noise levels and noxious emissions that are disturbing and dangerous to the community.
The fire on May 18 started next door to 60 Hudson at Ace Hardware. It was a small electrical fire caused by faulty external wiring. The fire safety director at 60 Hudson smelled smoke before the alarm system went off. The FDNY arrived just four minutes and six seconds later. While the flames produced a lot of smoke, 60 Hudson suffered very little damage and fire department officials claim the blaze was out in just 17 minutes.