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New York City Apartment Fire, 19 Killed Including Nine Children; Unvaccinated Children Hospitalized As Schools Resumes; Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Trump On The Anniversary Of The Insurrection; New York Officials Press Conference On The Apartment Fire. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 09, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the "CNN Newsroom." I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. We want to update you on our breaking news. Nineteen people are dead including nine children after a horrific fire in the Bronx, the deadliest in the city in over 30 years. This is video from the scene as firefighters were trying to rescue people from the 19-storey building.

Fire officials revealing that they found victims in the stairwell on each floor in either cardiac or respiratory arrest. We do not know at this hour how the fire started, but a door that was left open allowed the smoke and flames to quickly spread with tragic consequences. Let's go to Polo Sandoval on the scene. Polo, we're expecting another update from the mayor in just a few moments. What do we know at the moment?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A rainy and cold night in the Bronx and there are so many families, Jim, that are hoping for answers as to what may happen next there. Of course, you talked about dozens of families who were displaced. And now many of those families also grieving the loss of their loved one.

Now, as we wait to hear from the New York City's mayor, I could bring you up to speed on the latest numbers that have been confirmed by authorities. We saw well over 60 people who were injured during this fire today. About half of them were critically injured and we now know 19 confirmed dead and among them, of course, those nine children.

And when I spoke to the New York City fire commissioner early today, he is certainly concerned and worried that about half of those total fatalities of what we may see today may end up being children. But ultimately though we will certainly have to see where this investigation goes and as those authorities continue to basically put these pieces together.

What we know about what took place earlier this morning, it was about 11:00 a.m. when the fire broke out at one of those duplex apartments in this high-rise that has about 19 -- it's about a 19-storey high rise that according to neighbors has roughly 120 individual units. That fire mainly contained to that apartment. But here's the thing. It wasn't the fire that caused so much death. It was the smoke. I spoke to neighbors that lived in the top and upper floors who told

me that they looked out their door and saw that thick white smoke in their hallway. You're talking about seven, eight, 10 stories up above where that fire actually happened. So that certainly going to beg a closer look about the policies and practices and mainly the recommendations obviously that you hear from first responders for those residents that live in these kinds of high rises on what should be done.

We did hear from the mayor earlier today that there were reports that the door was possibly left open allowing for that smoke to escape. But ultimately we're going to have to see exactly what that investigation provides and also what the mayor will tell us in the coming minutes.

ACOSTA: And what is the latest on what's being done for folks who have been displaced from that building, Polo?

SANDOVAL: So, Jim, right next to that high-rise, there's a school that's basically been opened up to take in these families, to stay warm, to perhaps get a meal, and to try to find out a little bit more about where they will be spending the night. Some have been told that there are hotel accommodations potentially for them.

But ultimately, it's -- they're going to have to wait and see what they hear from emergency responders and what they may actually be able to do. But for now, the Red Cross is on the ground here and they are making sure that those families are warm, that they're fed, and that they're all accounted for.

ACOSTA: And is this shaping up to be, Polo, sort of a smoke inhalation situation in terms of why we saw so many people die? Because we didn't -- it doesn't look like the building burned to the ground. And so it's just one of those situations where the smoke, just the unbelievable amount of smoke in the building proved deadly.

SANDOVAL: It likely will be, especially in our conversations that we have had with first responders here on the ground that it seems that smoke inhalation will likely be one of the main factors when it comes to the deaths that have already been confirmed. And when you look at the building, Jim, you see that a lot of the windows have actually been shattered.

One of the neighbors who was out here that managed to escape looked up and saw those billow -- that smoke billowing from that apartment, and many of his neighbors, according to what he saw, breaking their windows to try to get some fresh air into their -- into their apartment. So no question that is being considered one of the main factors, smoke inhalation, because even though that fire was largely contained to that apartment, the smoke, it filled basically every floor based on what we've heard from witnesses and even the fire commissioner himself.

ACOSTA: All right, Polo, thank you very much. With me now is Democratic Congressman Richie Torres of New York. And actually, you know, we're going to skip -- we're going to move -- we're not -- we don't have the congressman with us just at this moment. Let's move over to former FDNY commissioner Thomas Von Essen.

Commissioner, thanks for being with us. Things are moving quickly.


A lot of moving parts this evening and just this awful situation in the Bronx. You know, we've been talking about this with Polo Sandoval on the scene over the last hour or so. This is a fairly historic fire in terms of just the extent, the damage, the death toll, and so on for New York City, which is saying a lot. Give us a sense as to how challenging this was for the crews on the scene, the first responders dealing with all of that.

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER FDNY COMMISSINER: Well, Jim, you mentioned that one door, the fire department, had to be left open. I would guess, but not be pretty sure that I'm right, a lot of doors are left open in the stairwells and everywhere else. Those stairwells, they're supposed to be a safe stairwell. It looks like the fire went up that stairwell and got into all the floors above.

So there had to be doors left open on different floors. Otherwise, you would not get that volume of smoke on the upper floors. Those people probably panicked. A lot of them might've been better off if they stayed in their apartment, but you don't know unless you're in that situation.

And you're absolutely right. Closing doors in those buildings, it's something we talk about all the time. We try to spread that word. But when people are afraid and they panic, they don't think of it.

ACOSTA: And what do you think the next steps are going to be at this point to determine the cause of this fire? I mean, when you just look at the situation in the video that's been coming from the scene, do you have any sense as to what may have caused something like this?

VON ESSEN: You know, the cause of the fire at this point who knows, cooking, it had to be something in that individual apartment. And it would be contained to that apartment as some of the tenants have already said if it hadn't been allowed out of the apartment. Those doors are fireproof, the stairwells are fireproof. Those are pretty safe buildings.

I don't know the condition of it. It looks pretty good to me from the outside. It looks like a good building. It just looks like a tragic panicking by a lot of the folks and, you know, just did not, you know, the things that keep them safe. And when you're afraid, people don't think about them.

ACOSTA: And we were just talking about this with Polo Sandoval on the scene there that smoke inhalation may likely be the cause of the bulk of these deaths. Don't know that for a fact, but when you see all of those windows punched out and the smoke billowing out of those windows, it does look like a smoke inhalation situation for the vast majority of everybody in that building who was impacted by this.

VON ESSEN: And Jim, there's no question about that. Without knowing anything, I can tell you you're right about that. The guys get there quick, they put that fire out quick, and that building is just full of smoke. There is people who were in the stairwells. That's like being in a chimney.

They had overcome and it just that you can't get to them fast enough to save them. So I would imagine that they are going to find a lot of these severely injured people in stairwells and some of the other folks who are on floors where the doors were left open.

ACOSTA: My goodness. Just an awful situation. Thomas Von Essen, thank you very much. Please stick around if you can. We appreciate your expertise. We're going to continue to monitor the situation in the Bronx and we have an upcoming press conference with the mayor of New York, with the governor of New York, on this deadly fire that has killed 19 people so far including nine children, the deadliest fire in New York City in some 30 years. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. We'll be right back in just a few moments.



ACOSTA: Hospitals across the country are struggling as new omicron cases continue to surge. Nearly a quarter of hospitals in the United States today report a critical staffing shortage, the worst it's been since the start of the pandemic. And this wave has not reached its peak. The U.S. could hit 1 million cases a day very soon. And that could happen repeatedly according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The timing coincides with students returning to the classroom or at least trying to return. More than 300,000 Chicago students have been stuck at home with classes canceled since Wednesday as a dispute rages between city officials and teachers who want remote learning. As of now, still no deal as Chicago kids could miss another day of class tomorrow.

But in California, new data raises questions about how to ensure the safety of children in schools. Children's Hospital Los Angeles reports that roughly one-quarter of children hospitalized with COVID are admitted to the pediatric ICU with some requiring intubation. Let's go to CNN's Nadia Romero in Atlanta. Nadia, these are some very troubling numbers.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's really sad to see, and we're specifically talking about that age group of those who are 5 and younger, Jim, because they are not eligible to get vaccinated so they're really depending on the rest of us to keep them safe. And when you look at one particularly statistic, it's about a 48 percent increase in pediatric hospitalizations when you look at December 4th that week compared to January 1st.

And that is the largest increase in pediatric hospitalizations that we've seen over the course of this pandemic. Now, the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, says there's really one way and the best way to keep those kids safe, listen to what she says we can all be doing.


ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Here's what I can tell you about our pediatric hospitalizations now. First of all, the vast majority of children who are in the hospital are unvaccinated. And for those children who are not eligible for vaccination we do know that they are most likely to get sick with COVID if their family members aren't vaccinated. So the most important thing we can do for those children to keep them out of the hospital is to vaccinate them and to vaccinate their family members around them.



ROMERO: And that number of hospitalizations that we're seeing rising across the country, it's one of the reasons why school teachers say that they don't want to bring their kids back to school, they're not looking forward to in-person learning, specifically in Chicago and New York City.

Let's take Chicago, for instance. The teachers union came out yesterday and says, listen, we'll go back in to virtual teaching, we'll go into our classrooms, we'll teach. The kids will stay at home and do remote learning. And that will give us time to hopefully see these cases coming down, to see our kids get vaccinated, to see more people getting tested so we can limit the spread.

But the mayor of Chicago said no, the only thing that Mayor Lori Lightfoot would support is in-person learning. She says those kids need to be in the classroom. It's where they're safest. It's where many kids get their two meals out of the day from school and they need to get back to learning in-person. And that is why for yet another day, Jim, we'll see kids in the Chicago school district, some 340,000 of them out of school yet again.

ACOSTA: All right, Nadia Romero, thank you very much for that update. Let's bring in vice provost of Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and former member of the Biden transition COVID task force, Dr. Zeke Emanuel. He's also the author of "Which Country has the World's Best Healthcare." Spoiler, it's not us. Dr. Emanuel, great to see you. Thanks so much for being with us.

It's just mind-boggling to think that we're creeping towards a million cases a day and hospitals are once again about to buckle and some are buckling at this moment. How do we get out of this?

ZEKE EMANUEL, VICE PROVOST, GLOBAL INITIATIVES, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, we get out of it by using all the techniques we know. You know, if you immunize someone today, it's not going to have an effect for weeks because the body has to produce antibodies, you need a second shot. We have important measures, air purifiers and air filtrations that we can put in classrooms. We have masks. We have decreasing indoor dining and other things.

Those are the measures we have today to decrease the spread of omicron, which, unfortunately is very highly contagious but not so virulent. So very few people, especially people who are vaccinated, will die. People -- I think Dr. Walensky was 100 percent right. You know, people have to get vaccinated. They have to get vaccinated not just for themselves, for their kids and for the community. If we get those cases down, you know, we can do everything safer and that's the critical element.

ACOSTA: And there are still millions of Americans who haven't been vaccinated as you were just saying and throughout this pandemic you've spoken out in favor of vaccine mandates. And if President Biden's workplace mandate gets struck down by the Supreme Court, I mean, I think a big question to ask is what then if the Supreme Court is going to take this tool away from the president, from the White House.

EMANUEL: Well, obviously a lot's going to have to depend upon it. That would I think be irresponsible by the Supreme Court. You do by vaccinating people protect them from workplace infections. And that is something they've -- the OSHA has done in the past. I presume that OSHA will then have to go to a more targeted strategy looking at places where workers have died because of coronavirus infections and tailor it to those places.

But I think it is a terrible mistake to take away tools in the midst of a pandemic. Maybe the Supreme Court doesn't fully get the fact that 1,500 Americans are dying per day in the United States. That's over 500,000 people if you put that on a yearly basis from coronavirus. And we need to try everything we can to do it, and OSHA has responsibility for protecting the health and welfare of workers. And this certainly is one way to do it.

ACOSTA: And what's your advice to the administration when you have a situation across this country where, you know, schools in some places are closed, in other places they have different require -- I mean, they have varying requirements depending almost on each individual school district.

And, at the same time, you have bars and entertainment venues that are open, people are going to football games and basketball games and so on. You know, what do you say to administration trying to sort through that? That's unbelievable.

EMANUEL: Let me make two clear points. First, I agree with Mayor Lightfoot that kids have to be in school, and we know that virtual learning did not work. It was a failure across the country and we kept kids out way too long. What do we have to do? Teachers have to be fully vaccinated and get boosted. Children who can be vaccinated have to be vaccinated.

Then we have to put in good air purifiers into classrooms. They either have to have MERV-13 air handling or put in a HEPA filter. There are billions of dollars available for the federal government to improve and upgrade schools, and wear high-quality masks where they can. That makes schools safer.


We know virtual learning for kids, you know, in first-grade and above is not very effective for them and we lose many kids. So I think we have to prioritize in-person learning and put the safety measures we know work to reduce transmission to work there.

I do think that we have our priorities upside down when we're think dining in restaurants, going to football games, going to basketball games are more important than having schools open. That just seems upside down in this country.

ACOSTA: All right, hopefully we'll get the right side up at some point. Dr. Zeke Emanuel, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

EMANUEL: Thank you.

ACOSTA: And we are monitoring for a press conference from New York on that deadly fire that killed 19 people including nine children. The deadliest fire in New York City in 30 years and we're waiting to hear from the new New York mayor, Eric Adams and new New York Governor Kathy Hochul. That's coming up.



ACOSTA: During a week when we saw incredible tributes to the victims of the January 6th attack at the capitol, the former president who sparked the riot was preoccupied with another issue. The crowd size at his rally that day.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They never show helicopter, pictures of that incredible crowd because it was the largest crowd I've ever spoken before. I've never have a crowd -- I've never seen a crowd that big.


TRUMP: It was -- the real number I won't say because it'll be a headline, oh, he exaggerated the number. The real number was over that sacred number. You know what that number was, right?

BOBB: Yes. I do.

TRUMP: And I don't even talk about that. And they don't talk about it. I don't go the -- but I'll tell you, the crowd itself was the biggest crowd I've ever -- and I've spoken before the biggest crowds. The biggest crowd I've ever spoken by far.


ACOSTA: Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He served as an impeachment manager during Donald Trump's second impeachment trial. Congressman, let me just get your response to those comments from former President Trump. I mean, we really didn't hear from him. He didn't have that press conference on January 6th this time around, but he made those comments to one of his propaganda networks. It's just, you can't really describe it in any other word beside sick. It's just sick.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Jim, Donald Trump does not attract the biggest crowds, but he incites the biggest crowds. That's what he did on January 6th. Today is National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. So, again, thank you to every officer across the country who walks the beat. I'm the son of a cop, brother to two cops, and as a prosecutor, worked with the police.

And I'm eternally grateful for those who saved us on the 6th and those who work every day, and this fire in New York, its first responders who, again, are answering the call, and our hearts are with them. But it is sick, Jim that this president, again, would put himself above the service of others, especially on a day like January 6th.

ACOSTA: And I know that last year you filed a lawsuit against Trump, his son Don, Jr., Rudy Giuliani, even Republican Congressman Mo Brooks seeking to hold them accountable for inciting the insurrection. What is the latest on that lawsuit? Are there any developments?

SWALWELL: Big development, Jim. Tomorrow we have the motion to dismiss. Donald Trump and others are saying that they cannot be sued because they have absolute immunity. Our theory of the case is that there are limits to that. And when you incite and aim a violent mob at the capitol to stop lawmakers from counting votes and to terrorize them and to hurt police officers that you're out of bounds.

And so tomorrow will be a big hearing, and we expect that once we get a ruling on this case, it's going to speed up, and hopefully we'll move to depositions and evidence discovery very soon.

ACOSTA: And at this hearing, you will be there or your attorneys will be there, their attorneys will be there, that kind of thing?

SWALWELL: Yes. Unfortunately because of the, you know, recent omicron outbreak, it's going to be by zoom. So, I'll be seated probably in this same room watching as the president and his family members and Mo Brooks' lawyer respond to the judge's questions and my lawyer and we are joined with some other plaintiffs as well who have also been harmed. So it'll be a long hearing, but hopefully we will learn a lot more about the direction of this case.

ACOSTA: And I asked the House Majority Whip James Clyburn about the frustration that some Democrats feel about how Attorney General Merrick Garland has handled prosecuting rioters and why he hasn't moved up to bigger fish. And here's what he told me.


RPE. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I think the attorney general needs to step up his game. He have to -- remember that this country is teetering on edge. And I think he needs to reassure the American people. It's not just about whether or not you're going to do what you need to do, it's whether or not the American people will have confidence in the fact that you will do what needs to be done. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Quick response from you, congressman. We might go to this press conference up in New York.

SWALWELL: I value his independence and I'm not going to question it. But, boy, Jim, these crimes were completed in plain sight, and I hope that Donald Trump is treated no worse than any other defendant because of what he did but certainly should not be treated any better.

ACOSTA: All right, congressman, it was a quick conversation. We'll have you back again on soon.

SWALWELL: It's all right. Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Congressman, thanks so much. Let's go to New York for the latest on this deadly fire. Here's the mayor of New York.


ERIC ADAMS, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: -- our OEM, all of our entities, we are in the energy of when there is a crisis in this city or state, we are coming together. We are sending a loud message with the men and women of the clergy and the other officers in this city. We are in a moment where we're facing a multitude of crises at one time, and we won't succeed if we're not united.

And coming here today, the governor reached out to me and stated that she wanted to be here to send a loud message for these families and to say thank you to the men and women who went in this building. Some of these firefighters, their oxygen --


-- their oxygen tanks were empty and they still pushed through the smoke. You can't do this if you don't feel attached to the city and this community. And I really want to thank them for putting their lives on the line to save lives. Over 30 people are in the hospital, 19 deaths, nine of them are children, are babies that we lost. And we're all feeling this.

And we're going to be here for this community to help them navigate through this. Many of these young children went to schools, we will have social and emotional support at their schools to help their classmates. We're here as well with the Red Cross and OEM is going to coordinate together to get housing. And also some of the emergency needs that the people who experienced this trauma experienced.

And it's so important that we have the faith-based leaders here. This was a large Muslim population. Sheikh Musa is here that knows many of the residents. They come from Gambia. And we want to make sure that we're sensitive to the cultural needs. The (inaudible) office is going to coordinate to make sure that we respect the burial rites of the Muslim community as well as others.

So, our message is clear today. During a tragedy, we are going to be here for each other. There's more to be discovered. The FDNY is doing a thorough investigation. Commissioner Nigro will update us on the latest. But it appears as though this stemmed from a space heater. But the marshals are here, they will give us a thorough investigation to turn out -- to determine exactly what took place and what we can do better not to have this repeated.

So, at this time, I want to just thank the governor of the state of New York who's here with us today.


-- and just ask her to say a few words. Governor?

KATHY HOCHUL, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORL: Thank you, mayor. We are indeed a city in shock. It's impossible to go into that room where scores of family who are in such grief, who are in pain. To see it in a mother's eyes as I held her who lost her entire family. It's hard to fathom what they're going through. But I went table to table, helped children make the ramen noodles and eat their pizza, and let them know one thing, and the mayor and I are united in this.

We will not forget you. We will not abandon you. We are here for you. So your elected leaders from your Senator Schumer on down to our council members are united here to support this community, to say tonight is a night of tragedy and pain, and tomorrow we begin to rebuild. We rebuild their lives and give them hope, especially those who came all the way from Africa, Gambia, in search of a better life right here in this great borough, the borough of the Bronx.

They're part of our family. And when I prepare my budget this week, I'm going to establish a victims' compensation fund for the individuals I just sat with and said I will not forget you. There will be money to help them find new housing, for burial costs, for whatever they need, we will take care of them because that's what we do here in the state of New York.

We are here for the Bronx and we're here for anyone who needs us. And I thank the leadership of our mayor, our fire commissioner, Nigro, and all the men and women in uniform who went into a building not knowing their own fate, and they still went in there and rescued people. And that's why I'm so proud to be the governor of a state like this.


You cannot keep us down ever. We are united together. Thank you. And may god bless the individuals who are suffering and the souls of those we lost, particularly the children.

UNKNOWN: Thank you, governor.

ADAMS: And I'm just so happy when I reached out to state senator and asked him can he come up and join us today, without hesitation, he came up just to be here and show how our united front. Thank you, Senator Schumer. Senator Schumer?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Thank you, mayor, governor, and everyone here. You see the outpouring from -- of every level of government from all parts of the city. I just came up from Brooklyn. It is such a tragedy, thinking of children, thinking of families, thinking of so many people in this building, immigrants striving to climb that ladder up, and their lives snuffed out. It's awful.

I want to thank our firefighters. Unbelievable. They always rush to danger. They don't care, they don't -- they don't worry about themselves. They just go in there, and they were here from all reports very, very quickly. We appreciate that. At the federal level, we'll do whatever we can. There is housing assistance, there is tax assistance, and maybe most important in this instance, immigration assistance so families can be united because many of these families have come from overseas and need to be here.

And I just pledge and (inaudible) I saw my colleague from Congress, our congress member, Richie Torres, we pledge to do whatever we can at the federal level. But New Yorkers are united in standing by when there's a tragedy, we come together. We don't care about ideology, we don't care about race, creed, color, religion. We come together, we embrace one another, and we say we are for helping New Yorkers who need help. That's who we've been for the history of our city and on this awful night that doesn't change. Thank you, mayor.

ADAMS: Thank you so much, senator. And I think the senator raised a good point. This is a heavy immigrant community, and we want to make sure, Sheikh Musa, let the residents know that if you need assistance, you, your names will not be turned over to ICE or any other institution. We want people to be comfortable in coming forward, and it's imperative that we connect with those on the ground to make sure they get that message and that word out.

And so we want to allow and have Commissioner Nigro come forward to give any technical updates on what took place and the updates on the investigation. Commissioner?

DANIEL NIGRO, COMMISSIONER, FDNY: Thank you, mayor. And let me just say that my entire department mourns along with the families here today and our entire city. We're all about saving lives and the loss of one life is sad for us, much less 19 lives. As the mayor said, this fire began in an apartment that spans two floors on the second and third floor of the building.

It started in a malfunctioning electric space heater. That was the cause of the fire. The fire consumed that apartment that is on two floors and part of the hallway. The door to that apartment, unfortunately, when the residents left was left open, it did not close by itself. The smoke spread throughout the building. Thus, the tremendous loss of life and other people fighting for their lives right now in hospitals all over the Bronx.

So, we are investigating where everyone was found, how the smoke traveled, but certainly the marshals have determined through physical evidence and through firsthand accounts by the residents that this fire started in a bedroom in a portable electric heater.

ADAMS: Let's see if there's any questions that might be asked. NIGRO: Any questions that I can answer, I'll be happy to do that.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible) functioning smoke detectors --

UNKNOWN: -- why did they need to use a space heater?

UNKNOWN: Were there functioning smoke detectors?

NIGRO: The -- I heard someone ask about the heat. The heat was on in the building. It was being used to supplement the building heat. There were smoke alarms throughout the building. The first call that came in was due to some -- a neighbor hearing a smoke alarm and looking and seeing the smoke and calling.

UNKNOWN: Commissioner, there were reports that this was a very frequently malfunctioning smoke alarm system and the alarm went off frequently and that's why a lot of residents may not have had urgency to leave. Can you confirm any of that?

NIGRO: We will look into that, but I cannot confirm that now.

UNKNOWN: There are reports also that residents didn't know where to escape, where the fire escapes were. Can you comment on that?


NIGRO: Well, on buildings like this, there are no fire escapes, there are interior stairways. So the residents should know where the stairwells are. And I think some of them could not escape because of the volume of smoke.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible) how many were staying in the, on that (inaudible)?

NIGRO: I can't give you the exact number right now. I believe there's 120 apartments in the building. There's a very large number of people right now who need a place to stay.

UNKNOWN: Can you tell us anything about the children, what were their ages of the ones who passed away?

NIGRO: I do not have that now.

UNKNOWN: Are there people in that building now?

NIGRO: There are some people in a building now, whether they will stay, we're not sure. But there's very few.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible) talking about getting in a place (inaudible)

NIGRO: I think it certainly is traumatizing when we can't save a life. And our members, you know, tried diligently, fire and EMS members, to bring some of these people back and to bring them out as quickly as they could. So, we will have our counseling service be very busy after this with our members who are saddened by this terrible loss. UNKNOWN: Commissioner, I understand your members were finding people

in stairwells all throughout the building. Can you explain how that operation went and why (inaudible) think that this all over the building very much?

NIGRO: Well, as I said, the door was left open to the apartment. There was at least one door open from a stairwell to a floor in one of the upper floors. Smoke and heat travel upward. That we know. That's what happened here. As the mayor said, it was a very difficult job for our members. Their air tanks contained a certain amount of air. They ran out of air. Many of our members and they continued working to try to get as many people out as they could.

UNKNOWN: Does anyone have questions for the mayor, for the governor?


UNKNOWN: Yes, go ahead.

UNKNOWN: In terms of the shelter here with the middle school, where will these people be staying for the next few nights, and where will they be getting resources?

ADAMS: Thank you. And we have our deputy commission of OEM that's here that's going to give the update, and Red Cross.

CHRISTINA FARRELL, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, NYC EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: I am right here. I'm just short. Hello. I'm from emergency management. So we do have the Red Cross here. They were here very quickly. We're registering everyone that needs housing. They will be going into hotels for, you know, an extended period while we work it out and it's safe for people to go back into the building.

If people are ultimately not able to go back into their apartments, we will work with HPD, with the state, and other resources to get people the long-term housing that they need.

ADAMS: Talk about the (inaudible).

FARRELL: Yes. So we are coordinating the other responses. This is an active school, obviously. So we will be, when everybody is taken care of for the evening, we will be closing out of the school tonight and then going to another community facility nearby. We have set up a website on the emergency management website. We're in multiple languages where we are putting out all the information.

I know there are some people that are concerned about their pets. And, so, you know, we will work with the agencies on that. We are providing food, a lot of children go to the school next door and other schools. So depending on where they're staying tonight, we will get them transportation back to the school. We have set up a short code. People that are affected can text 181 STFIRE to 692692 and they will receive messages in English, Spanish, and French on services that are available.

The other thing is we have set up with the police department missing persons unit with 311, the unidentified victim information system. People can call 311 or outside of the city they can call 212 New York. And they -- if they are looking for information on a loved one that was taken to a hospital or who has passed away, we can get them that information.

UNKNOWN: I understand there are laws that state that these doors have to automatically shut in an emergency like this. Who is making sure that this is actually being implemented? This could save lives.

ADAMS: There are laws that are supposed to do that and part of the investigation from the marshals will determine if this exactly took place here. But there are laws on that.

UNKNOWN: Have there been any issues with the smoke alarms (inaudible) --


ADAMS: Our preliminary review determined that there were two reports, violations, but they were not related to heat at all.

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible).

ADAMS: Hold on, hold on, hold on. Who did you pick? Okay. Yes.

UNKNOWN: The building was listed (ph) as semi-fire proof online. My understanding is that all buildings above six stories need to be fully fireproof. Can you talk a bit about that discrepancy at all?

ADAMS: Yes. We'll look into that. This building was built in 1972. It was federally funded. It was potentially built under -- outside of the New York City fire code, which is why it might be listed as that.

UNKNOWN: What does that mean it was built outside of the New York City fire code? (Inaudible).

NIGRO: Well, certain federal buildings can be built under different standards. But to be perfectly clear, the fire never extended beyond. The fire itself other than getting in the hall because the door was open, never extended anywhere else in the building. So that was not a factor.

UNKNOWN: Given -- given the staffing challenges -- staffing challenges of omicron, is FDNY EMS seeing any staffing challenges, and that -- did that play any role in the response here?

NIGRO: It played absolutely no role. It's a challenge, but we've been able to -- every one of our units is fully staffed, fire and EMS.

ADAMS: Let's have one more. (Inaudible)

UNKNOWN: We have one more.

ADAMS: Commissioner.

UNKNOWN: My question, any (inaudible)? NIGRO: I'm sorry?

UNKNOWN: (Inaudible).

ADMAS: From -- we're not aware of that. Yes. Not aware of that. Listen, we want to -- we just really want to thank our congressional delegation, the public advocate, our council members, our assemblyperson, our D.A., our borough president, our controller. We're just seeing the symbol of the unification of this city come into this family and this community to let you know we are here and we're going to be here for you. Thank you very much. Thank you, governor.


ACOSTA: And you've been listening to an update from the mayor of New York, Eric Adams, the New York governor, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and other officials on the deadly fire that killed 19 people including nine children in the deadliest fire in New York City in some 30 years. And with me now is the former FDNY commissioner Thomas Von Essen.

Commissioner, you know, it sounds as though what we were hearing from both the fire commissioner and the mayor is that this fire appears to have been tragically started by a malfunctioning electric heater, a space heater in a bedroom.

My goodness, I'm old enough to know how dangerous those space heaters can be and how people are warned over and over again, you know, be careful with those space heaters. And this is an example of what can happen when they malfunction and when they start a fire that gets out of control.

VON ESSEN: Well, it makes total sense, Jim, that this would be the cause. In the winter people are cold, the heat is maybe not to their liking so they get and buy a space heater. It might be too many volts for the power that they have coming in. They may have too many appliances on that particular extension. So, you just don't know.

That will all come out in the investigation. But as Commissioner Nigro mentioned, the building's a good building, the fire was contained to one apartment. Now it's a question of how did the smoke get throughout that building and affect so many people who really had no reason to be affected by it.

And it's because of the movement of the smoke up the stairwell, outside the windows when it breaks through the window, caught into the apartment upstairs probably just with smoke. So it was just something that really could've been avoided, but it's understandable when you have that much smoke in a building that, you know, people are afraid, people get scared.

ACOSTA: And you make a good point about space heaters malfunctioning and people getting cold in the wintertime. I suppose everybody who's at home right now who has a space heater should make darn sure that that thing is being properly used right now. And on the subject of smoke, you were just talking about how it's

puzzling that so much smoke could spread throughout the building in such a way that you could have so many people die and be injured as a result. Could that possibly because -- be because of the ventilation in that building?

Is there something with buildings of that era or, they were also talking at the very end of this. This was a federally funded building at one point. You know these buildings well across the city of New York. Is there something about this type of building that makes it something of a smoke trap?

VON ESSEN: Jim, I don't think so. I've never seen any reason to believe that that would be the case. Can't tell you for sure.


My gut is that it's not the building, it was the fact that all those doors had to be left open for that smoke to spread. If you're in that stairwell and that door from that fire floor or even the first floor with the firefighters coming up trying to get to the fire floor, that chimney, if you're in a wrong stairwell is like being in a chimney.

And you can easily become -- I'll bet you they found a couple of people overcome at the top of the stairwell and maybe on the floors going down also. And if both stairwells were used then that was the case.

ACOSTA: And so potentially the stairwell doors were not being used properly or they were not functioning properly? Is that --

VON ESSEN: Well, we don't know.

ACOSTA: We don't know.

VON ESSEN: I don't know if they (inaudible). Yes. But I can tell you if those doors are closed, then that smoke is not getting throughout the building. But they obviously weren't and it might have been, you know, people just trying to get out, people -- like I say, they panic. If they stayed in their apartments, some of those folks might have been okay.

Maybe the people directly above the fire apartment were in danger. But I would imagine people on the other side of the building, on the upper floors were not in the danger that they may have thought they were because of all the smoke that they saw and they panicked over it.

ACOSTA: And I want to go to Polo Sandoval who is on the scene in just a moment. Commissioner, one last question to you about the bravery of these firefighters that was talked about at this press conference. Many of these firefighters were going into that building and then were working inside that building to rescue people without any oxygen left in their tanks. Did I hear that correctly?

Is that something that happens from time to time? I mean, my goodness, that just goes to how, you know, on a daily basis, these firefighters are heroes and put their lives on the line. I know you don't want -- you probably don't want to use the term hero, but I'm sure they rescued so many people and were putting themselves in harm's way in doing so.

VON ESSEN: That's absolutely the case. You know, when we started with bunker gear quite a while ago now, we moved to a lighter mask and it hold less oxygen only because the guys would become debilitated with the heavier bottles that we had.

So now they run out of air faster, but that didn't stop these guys. When they ran out of air, they just kept going. They probably -- they probably just took them off threw them on the side or probably kept them on because they wanted to use the mask anyway to help them see a little bit better.

But those stairwells and those hallways, if there was that much smoke to make all those people drop like that, it must have been really dark and a really nasty, nasty smoke.

ACOSTA: And I imagine it's going to be difficult for some of these firefighters to cope with the lingering effects of being expose to that much smoke even though they're accustomed to some this and they go through a lot of training. All right, Commissioner, thanks so much. Stand by if you can. I want to go to Polo Sandoval who is on the scene there. Polo, what stood out to you at that news conference that we just heard?

SANDOVAL: What certainly did stand out, Jim, is what we heard from New York Governor Kathy Hochul as he described what it was like going into neighboring building, which is a school that is currently serving really as a shelter for many of these families who are now displaced, and recalling and recounting a meeting that she had or at least some time that she shared with the woman who lost her entire family.

So it certainly speaks to a level of heartbreak that we're seeing here. The fact that we -- 19 people sadly did not survive. Nine of them young children. That is just another level of heartbreak that this community is dealing with.

And then you also have what we heard, not just from the governor, but also from Mayor Eric Adams, that many members of this immigrant community, many of them coming here from as far as Africa to start a new life and now many affected in this way. So that's why the reasons why they are currently working with local non-profits, even faith leaders. I have witnessed multiple faith leaders here speaking to people to make sure that their needs are addressed tonight.

Many of these families, like we said, are basically sheltered in a neighboring school, but currently city officials, as we heard just a few seconds ago, Jim, are making sure that they will have a place to go tonight and really long term. You are looking at about 120 units that this structure housed or -- have held.

And so because of that you have potentially well over 100 families that may no longer have a home if their home is -- or if their living space was damaged by that smoke because as we heard from the commissioners, the fire was largely contained to that one apartment.

But it was the smoke that just billowed not just out the window but through this building that possibly damaged many, many floors. And now you have many families with nowhere else to go, and now leaning on what the city is offering at least short term.

ACOSTA: And I know it's very cold in the Bronx right now, Polo. It is 38 degrees, our last check of the temperature there. What about the residents who have been displaced from this building? There was talk of sheltering. Is there enough, I guess, facility space for all of these residents?


I assume, Polo, and forgive me if this has already been said many, many times, I assume that building has been completely evacuated now. There is nobody left in that building, or are there some folks still left in there?

SANDOVAL: Fire officials have told me earlier Jim that they were in the process of making sure that engineers could actually make sure that it was structurally sound to allow folks to potentially head back inside if they, in fact, can be inside. And as for the rest of the family or the rest of the folks, authorities are telling us that they're trying to make sure that they have at least a hotel to go to, at least for now.

ACOSTA: All right, Polo Sandoval, and the fire commissioner, Thomas Von Essen, thanks to both of you, and we're going to continue to cover this breaking news. The deadliest fire in New York City in 30 years, 19 dead, including nine children. This fire started by a portable electric space heater in a bedroom that malfunctioned.

Another reminder, if you have space heaters, they can be very dangerous. Be very careful with them. And then also it looks like the cause of so many of these deaths was smoke inhalation. That can be just a killer in situations like this. The former commissioner was just emphasizing that with us a few minutes ago.

We're going to stay on top of the story, get you the latest developments. We'll be right back.