Stamford Reps Grill Public Safety Officials, BLT About Feb. 1 Collapse

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STAMFORD – Board of Representatives President Jeff Curtis did some quick math during a heated meeting about the concrete slab that collapsed into the garage of Allure, a newly built South End luxury high-rise.

Curtis figured that the 15-by-20-foot slab, 12 inches thick, weighed about 57,000 pounds.

“Good thing it didn’t fall on anybody,” Curtis said.

But it could have, which is why Curtis and other city representatives grilled public-safety officials and the owner of the high-rise, developer Building & Land Technology, about their response to the Feb. 1 collapse.

City officials have determined that the collapse occurred about 1:10 p.m. but the fire department didn’t learn about it until two and a half hours later. And no one, including BLT or its management company, called 911.

“I can’t get my head around that,” Curtis, a retired building manager, said during the Thursday night meeting. “This could have been a major catastrophe. That slab could have been the first of many to fall.” 

By the time fire personnel arrived, “BLT already had engineers on site shoring things up and fencing off the area, the fire alarm company was there making repairs,” Curtis said. “If the first call from BLT was to its engineers and alarm company, it almost sounds like they were more concerned about solving the problems and possibly covering it up more than following the proper procedure.”

City Rep. Jeff Stella, chair of the board’s Public Safety Committee, said “there could easily have been other collapses” at Allure, a 22-story building with 435 apartments.

“For a group of individuals to gamble on the safety of others is troubling,” said Stella, a retired officer with the New York Police Department.

Stella and other representatives did not spare the fire department in their criticism of the response to the collapse, which did not result in injuries.

Stella cited the department’s standard operating guidelines, which call for one engine company, one truck company, one rescue company, one EMS unit, and an incident safety officer to respond to such calls. 

City Rep. Nina Sherwood questioned why the protocol was not followed. The Incident Detail Report from that day shows that the fire marshal, deputy fire marshal and two assistant fire chiefs responded, but no firefighters.

“So you’re in a building with hundreds of units and almost 60,000 pounds of concrete has collapsed, and you are assured by an agent of the owner that everything is OK, and you feel your duty to the city is fulfilled,” Sherwood said. “It sounds like we just … took their word for it.”

Investigating engineers have determined that the slab fell because it was not reinforced with post-tension cables, even though the building plan called for them.

City Rep. Sean Boeger said the actions of BLT were “irresponsible” with “so many souls on that property.” 

“If I were in that position, I would not take the word of the owner’s engineer, who caused the issue in the first place,” said Boeger, a Stamford police officer. “To any representatives of the owners of that property, I speak directly to them: You should have called 911, and you didn’t.”

BLT spokesman said Friday the developer is cooperating with city officials.

“Our primary focus was and is the safety and well-being of all our residents and the integrity of our buildings, and our team was immediately on site to secure the impacted area,” the spokesman said. 

He did not respond to a question about why 911 wasn’t called, but said, “BLT leadership was made immediately aware of the incident and deployed to the site with our team as well as several contractors and engineers. The site was secured and made safe and the city was notified, and we worked proactively with the city to inspect both the Allure and our other buildings.”

Public Safety Director Ted Jankowski said a series of confusing calls came into fire department headquarters, the mayor’s office and elsewhere, and based on that, fire officials believed the problem was a crumbling terrace and stuck elevator.

Such incidents are categorized as life-safety complaints, not emergencies, Jankowski said.

“If the call had come to 911, it would have been dispatched out according to the protocol,” Jankowski said. “The biggest problem is that no one called 911 to report a collapse.” 

But that’s what the chiefs and fire marshals found, he said.

Assistant Chief Mike Robles said that when he arrived on the scene he approached the fallen slab and stopped.

“I said, ‘Before I get close to that, can someone assure me that nothing else is going to collapse?’” Robles said.

A BLT engineer explained it was OK, Robles said, but he and the other assistant chief and the fire marshals – who Jankowski said have a combined 125 years of experience – summoned a city building official, examined the site and determined that the structure was safe.

One of the assistant chiefs is “is a foremost authority on building collapses,” Jankowski said.

“I believe it was the proper decision,” he said.

During the meeting City Engineer Lou Casolo and structural engineer John Cocca of Wiss Janney Elstner Associates, an outside firm hired by the city to investigate, gave representatives an update.

They said the problem at Allure appears to be confined to a fifth-floor outdoor terrace and pool area. It was from there that the slab fell into the fourth-floor parking garage. 

Cocca said his team has reviewed construction documents for Allure and walked the building looking for cracks and gaps, at times using special sensors that penetrate walls and floors.

“The issues are limited to that fifth-floor deck,” he said. “We didn’t observe anything of concern in other areas.”

Casolo said a report due in the next few days may reveal other measures that will be needed to repair the fifth floor.

“The investigation is ongoing,” Casolo said.

Chief Building Official Bharat Gami said BLT has filed for a permit to reconstruct the damaged area. Cocca’s firm, the building department and other city divisions must approve BLT’s reconstruction plan, Gami said.

In the meantime, Casolo and Cocca are reviewing construction documents and setting up site visits for seven other high-rises built by BLT, which for the last dozen years has been remaking the South End into a massive development called Harbor Point. 

Casolo said so far they have identified a problem in one other Harbor Point building, now under construction. Reinforcing cables were installed improperly, but the problem was identified and BLT’s engineer devised a fix for it, Casolo said.

Cocca said the error did not create a structural problem but will cause the concrete to wear prematurely. The problem occurred when contractors deviated from the building plan and an inspector failed to catch it – just like at Allure, Cocca said.

The Building Code requires that the property owner hire a special inspector to review key components of a project as it goes up, to ensure that the work is done according to the approved design, Cocca said.

In the case of Allure and the other building, “two people dropped the ball — the contractor installed something wrong and then the special inspector didn’t flag it,” Cocca said.

BLT is providing documents and allowing access into buildings, Casolo said. He and Cocca are researching construction reports to find out who the engineers, contractors and inspectors were for each of the eight buildings on their list, Casolo said.

Director of Operations Matt Quinones said the list may change.

“This is what we know as of today,” Quinones told the board. “Every day, as we learn more, we will get better at targeting where this investigation needs to go.”


This story has been updated to include comments by BLT


Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 733-6811

a.carella@ctexaminer.com