MTA inspector general sounds alarm over ‘ineffective’ fire safety system in Inwood subway yard

ByShannon J. Cortes

May 11, 2022

More than a dozen MTA worker facilities lack adequate fire safety, the agency’s Office of Inspector General warned.

In a April 14 letterThe OIG sounded the alarm at a number of MTA locations and singled out the faulty water pump infrastructure at the uptown 207th Street Yard as particularly troubling, according to documents released by the internal watchdog on Wednesday.

When operating efficiently, pumps increase water pressure for fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers and fire hydrants, when the regular water supply is too low to effectively contain a fire .

But several of the locations, including the 207th Street facility, boasted far too low water pressure that could render the fire suppression system ineffective, according to independent tests.

The 207th Street Yard in Inwood, which the agency is currently expanding as part of Hurricane Sandy-related repairs, serves as the main storage depot for trains running on the A and C subway lines, as well as a repair for A, B, C, and D, and the revision workshop for numbered metro lines.

After questionable test results came back from an internal team there in March, transit superiors hired an outside firm to perform another check, which revealed that a fire pump in the facility “failed almost immediately”, according to Keating.

“Based on the results, the outside company determined…that the fire suppression system was ineffective,” its letter continues.

But that’s not the only troubling finding of the OIG investigation.

Acting Inspector General Elizabeth Keating sent the letter outlining her findings to New York City Transit Acting President Craig Cipriano, who has since resumed his role as the agency’s chief operating officer.

In the letter, Keating described that 22 of 23 fire pumps at 13 NYCT facilities had not been tested since 2020 — and MTA branch personnel had not received proper training to perform the checks, according to the letter.

Although the broader audit has yet to be released, Keating sent the warnings to Cipriano in March and April because the situation at the 207th Street Inwood facility was of particular concern.

Contracted examiners said the failure may have been caused by low water pressure from the site’s so-called fire loop – an 8ft underground pipe that sends water to all hydrants fire and fire protection system installations.

The system is critical to fire safety at the complex, and MTA is in the midst of a more than $600 million rehabilitation of the 207th Street Yard to repair damage from the 2012 Superstrom and to add proactive anti-flood measures. .

The project, which is expected to be mostly completed by mid-2024, also includes the construction of two new signal relay buildings, which, with a combined area of ​​34,000 square feet, are the largest new buildings in the MTA system. , according to march board papers.

The MTA had requested verification of the 207th Street system to see if it could add more connections to the fire loop as part of the expansion.

Having a functioning fire suppression system in accordance with codes set by the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association is critical to ensuring the safety of workers and new facilities in the event of a fire, the letter points out.

“Fire suppression systems play an important role in ensuring personnel and property are protected from fires,” Keating wrote. “Testing and maintaining these fire pumps according to the schedules required by the NFPA is of the utmost importance.”

The OIG also found that NYC Transit had neglected to do annual testing of its system at facilities, which include other outposts like Coney Island Yard in Brooklyn and Corona Yard in Queens. The 23 fire safety systems are located in facilities not open to the public.

Twenty-two systems had their last check in 2020 and only one, the downtown Fulton Street Transit Center, was checked last year in November.

The agency had no record of replacing or testing its pump gauges – which measure pressure and suction – even though that should happen every five years, according to the fire code.

NYCT has since hired outside vendors to test all 23 pieces of equipment and review 22 old reports from 2020, while figuring out how best to train its staff once those checks are done.

It also purchased 46 new gauges for those pumps, which workers will install by the end of June, according to MTA officials.

The agency has hired a “24/7 fire watch” at the 207th Street Yard building where the issue occurred, and it is adhering to state fire regulations, have officials said.

“There can be no compromise when it comes to the safety of MTA employees and when safety issues arise, we address them immediately,” MTA Director of Safety and Security Pat Warren said in a statement. a statement. “There are no known fire hazards at New York City Transit stations where we have implemented preventative measures and contracted independent certified fire suppression experts to test equipment. and install necessary upgrades.

“We will continue to evaluate the fire safety strategy, keeping policies aligned with industry standard best practices,” Warren added.