STAMFORD – When a 15-by-20-foot slab of concrete collapsed into the parking garage of an apartment high-rise in Harbor Point, nobody called 911.
So no firefighters responded, as they normally would. And a building official did not immediately inspect the structure to ensure it was safe for the people living in 435 units at Allure.
It’s not clear from just-released recordings of phone calls to the Stamford Fire Department on that Feb. 1 afternoon what time the slab fell.
It had to be before 3:16 p.m., when someone from the News12 cable TV station phoned to ask whether firefighters had responded to a call about a partial ceiling collapse at 850 Pacific St.
“You’re sure it was in Stamford? Because nobody here knows anything about it,” the woman who answered the phone at the fire department told the News12 producer.
News12 had received an email that included a photo of the fallen concrete, the producer explained.
The call was transferred to a fire captain in the 911 dispatch center, according to the audiotapes.
“I asked my on-duty deputy chief and he’s heard nothing,” the captain told the producer. “I’m looking through my calls and, no, we’ve received nothing here at all.”
A few minutes later the captain got a call from the deputy chief.
Deputy chief: “So they had some kind of collapse here. We don’t know yet; we’re trying to investigate. Nobody’s hurt. I believe the Building Department’s been notified, but can you double-check, and call them and make sure they’re responding?”
Captain: “Did this come from the phone call I got from News12?”
Deputy chief: “I have no idea what phone call you got.”
Captain: “News 12 gave us a call and said, ‘Do you have anything about a building collapse?’ I said, ‘We have nothing here.’ They said they received a picture from someone showing a partial collapse in a parking garage.”
Deputy chief: “That’s it. Same thing. … I guess nobody responded. It came from an email. So I don’t know what’s going on. We’re waiting for somebody here to send us to go look at it.”
The fire department’s confusion is apparent on the audiotapes. The Incident Detail Report from that day shows it created delays.
The first unit wasn’t assigned until 3:54 p.m. – 38 minutes after the inquiry from News12, and possibly a longer amount of time after 300 square feet of concrete fell from the patio deck into the parking garage at Allure.
One news outlet, Patch.com, has reported that the slab fell at 2:30 p.m. If that turns out to be the case, 1 hour and 24 minutes passed before the first fire unit was dispatched.
Adding to the confusion, the city’s public safety director has said that the first “official” call the city received was at 3:40 p.m., but that also bypassed the 911 dispatch system. The parent of an Allure resident called fire department headquarters to report “a crumbling ceiling and blocked exit,” Public Safety Director Ted Jankowski told the Board of Representatives.
A 911 call would have eliminated the confusion and activated an emergency response.
But no one called 911, even though Allure residents have said the collapse made a huge noise and blocked the garage.
Why did no one call?
Mayor Caroline Simmons has said that, after the collapse, she met with a team from Building & Land Technology, developer of the massive Harbor Point project and owner of Allure, a 3-year-old building. Simmons said she questioned why BLT did not call 911 immediately.
“This continues to be an ongoing investigation and the city’s priority remains the safety of residents,” Simmons said Thursday.
Her administration is expected to release more information on the incident shortly.
BLT spokesman Rob Blanchard did not return a request for comment as of Thursday evening.
A preliminary investigation by an engineer hired by the city to do an independent review showed that the slab that collapsed into the Allure garage had no post-tension cables, which strengthen concrete and were called for in the design plans.
The engineer, John Cocca with Wiss Janney Elstner Associates, has said there are questions about whether “all the cables that are supposed to be there are actually there.” If not, “we would have to extend the scope of the investigation to prove that cables are not missing from other areas of the building,” Cocca has said.
Firefighters responding to calls that involve damaged buildings quickly call in a building inspector to assess structural integrity.
The Incident Detail Report shows that a building inspector was enroute at 4:22 p.m., 42 minutes after the parent of an Allure resident made the first “official” call to fire department headquarters.
According to the audiotape, when the fire captain called the building department as his deputy chief requested, he asked an inspector whether anyone had been dispatched to Allure.
“We did not get a call,” the building inspector said. “Do we need to go out?”