Complications Cited in Deadly Ground Zero Blaze Two New York City firefighters died Saturday battling a blaze in an abandoned skyscraper in Lower Manhattan, near ground zero. Among the complications cited: the main water supply failed, the fire was hard to reach and the building was thought to be a toxic site.

Complications Cited in Deadly Ground Zero Blaze

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

A vacant office building across from the World Trade Center site in New York caught fire yesterday. The building did not collapse, but two firefighters lost their lives. The connections between yesterday's events and those of September 11 are on the minds of many New Yorkers. Governor Eliot Spitzer toured the site this morning.

Governor ELIOT SPITZER (Democrat, New York): This is just out of a horror movie and the consequences have been that we've lost two more firefighters and that is why the imperative here is get this torn down safely, protect the community, protect the firefighters and return this city to its greatest.

ELLIOTT: Reporter Fred Mogul of member station WNYC joins us now. Can you tell us what happened?

FRED MOGUL: Well, it's not clear exactly what started the fire. It began around 3:30 p.m. yesterday and took close to seven hours to control. There had been demolition workers on site earlier in the day. There's some talk that perhaps one had been smoking. There was no (unintelligible) and torch left on, which had been an initial theory.

And it was very difficult to fight. There was no water in this dismantling building so the firefighters had to hoist hoses up by rope and somewhere along the way, a couple of firefighters, as you heard, lost their lives. Their oxygen ran out and they suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. It's unclear exactly why that happened, what they were exposed to, and why they weren't sufficiently protected.

ELLIOTT: Why was this building still there? What had taken so long to demolish it?

MOGUL: It's called the Deutsche Bank Building. It belonged to the German bank. It's a 44-story black building, sort of, standing like a ghost over the World Trade Center all these years.

Demolition actually didn't begin until last year. There were a lot of environmental concerns. It's a little difficult. You can't really just implode a building like that in such a confined area and it was considered to be pretty filled with toxins such as asbestos and dioxin. So there was a lot of controversy and they've just started last year and it's been going somewhat slowly.

ELLIOT: I imagine there's concern there now that this fire might release more toxins into the air.

MOGUL: Well, exactly. Part of the 9/11 legacy is anxiety about these environmental exposures, its distrust of government authority and environmental regulators from the U.S. EPA. And so you know, people are concerned. The mayor yesterday and the governor today have said that there's not that much reason to be concerned. They have been testing and monitoring the air. And so far, the tests have come up negative for exposures, but not all the results are in yet.

ELLIOT: Fred Mogul of WNYC, thank you.

MOGUL: Thank you.

ELLIOTT: Purple and black bunting now hangs at the Engine 24 Ladder 5 firehouse in Lower Manhattan where New York's bravest are mourning two of their own in yesterday's blaze.

NPR's Allison Keyes reported on the 9/11 attacks from the scene and reflects on this latest loss.

ALLISON KEYES: This firehouse lost 11 on September 11th. Now, two more are gone - Joseph Graffagnino and Robert Beddia. Firefighters from around the city came to offer hugs and condolences to the men there.

New York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta says the firehouse where the men worked has seen more pain and devastation than anyone should have to deal with.

Mr. NICHOLAS SCOPPETTA (31st Fire Commissioner, Fire Department City of New York): Terrible event, terrible tragedy. And that house being hit again makes it all the more devastating.

KEYES: Graffagnino, an eight-year veteran, would've turned 34 tomorrow. Friends and neighbors gathered in Brooklyn last night. One called him the best father and the best husband. He is survived by his wife and daughter. Beddia was 53 years old. He'd spent more than two decades with the department. Neighbors say the Staten Island resident was really nice to know. Both men responded to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Allison Keyes, NPR News.

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