On January 23, 2005, a fire in a Bronx apartment building located on E. 178th St. broke out. The New York Fire Department was called to the scene, where members of the department worked to rescue the people trapped inside the building. Unfortunately, six firefighters died or were seriously injured during the fire.
During the subsequent investigation, of the fire, now known as the Black Sunday Fire, multiple sources cited the lack of safety ropes as the main reason why the firefighters died. The investigation also revealed that the landlord had illegally subdivided the apartment, making it next to impossible for rescue teams to navigate through the building. The poorly constructed dividing walls were not only difficult to navigate through, but also made it impossible for the firefighters to reach the exits of the building. Six of the firefighters on the scene choose to jump out of a window on the 5th story of the building rather than burn to death.
Two of the firefighters were immediately killed upon impact. A third firefighter, Joseph DiBernardo, had his feet and heels crushed from the impact. He died in 2011 from the physical and psychological impact of his injuries, according to court documents. Three other firefighters sustained injuries but survived.
As a result of the fire, families of the firefighters filed suit against the city and the landlord of the building. While one family settled out of court, the other five pressed forward with the suit.
During the trial, it was revealed that the firefighters had been issued safety ropes in the past, but all of the ropes had been removed from fire stations in 2000. The city claimed this was part of an attempt to reduce the weight of equipment carried by firefighters into the building, but was unable to show any documentation that this was, in fact, the reason the ropes were removed.
This week, a jury has awarded $183 million to the five plaintiffs. The ruling found that the city was 80% responsible for the deaths and injuries.