Last weekend, a fire broke out on the 50th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan, injuring six firefighters and killing 67-year-old resident Todd Brassner. The President took to Twitter that evening to congratulate the brave firemen who safely contained the blaze.
Fire at Trump Tower is out. Very confined (well built building). Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2018
The tragic irony is that this fire could have been prevented had Trump Tower been wired with an emergency sprinkler system for situations – and the reason it wasn’t is because of none other than Donald Trump.
In January 1999, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani lobbied City Council for a bill to require Manhattan high-rises to install emergency sprinkler systems. The previous month, two fires, one in a Brooklyn high-rise and the other in Manhattan’s South Park Towers, had taken the lives of residents and would have been easily prevented with sprinklers. City Council seemed amenable to the plan, but Trump opposed it.
“People feel safer with sprinklers,” he said to the New York Times, “but the problem with the bill is that it doesn’t address the buildings that need sprinklers the most. If you look at the fire deaths in New York, almost all of them are in one or two-family houses.”
Trump’s actual reasons for opposing the bill were less magnanimous. He thought wiring his buildings with sprinklers would be too expensive since they would cost $4.00 per square foot to install. According to a recap of this debate in today’s Washington Post, Trump called at least a dozen City Council members (by his estimation) to lobby against the bill. In addition, he donated $5,000 to retire City Council Speaker Peter Vallone’s campaign debt.
The final bill, which passed later that year, required new residential buildings to install sprinklers, as well as existing ones which needed at least a 50% renovation. But older buildings could remain sprinkler-free, and Trump Tower, having been built in 1983, made the cut.
Last Saturday’s fire is a microcosm of how Trump has governed this country: devoid of empathy for anyone other than himself. Remember this incident every time he overturns a health or environmental regulation, drops a bomb in the Middle East, or causes someone to lose their job with his trade wars. Then remember the name Todd Brassner, who is no longer alive because Trump didn’t want to spend money to save lives.
The most damning comment on Trump’s behavior comes from South Park Towers survivor Jerome Rose. When asked what he would like to say to Trump during the 1999 debate, he told The New York Post:
“I would inform Trump there must be sprinklers in every apartment and hallway…I would tell him if there has been a sprinkler in the Culkin apartment [in South Park Towers], the fire would have been out in 30 seconds, and nobody would have died. I will gladly pay a small rent increase to have sprinklers…
“I want the Donald Trumps to see what death brings. And how he might feel if it were his mother, his wife, his child. What price would they be worth? How many millions would he spend to bring them back?
“Half his fortune, or three-quarters, or all?”
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.