A man was killed, and six firefighters injured after an apartment caught fire on the 50th floor of Trump Tower in New York on Saturday. The victim, Todd Brassner, was found unresponsive in his apartment and was pronounced dead in the hospital, police said.
The 67-year-old was an art dealer who was friends with Andy Warhol, according to reports. Officials did not immediately release information about the cause of the fire. Donald Trump, who has an office and private residence in the Manhattan premises, his wife Melania and son Barron were not in the building at the time.
The fire broke out shortly before 6pm on Saturday. About 45 minutes later the president, who was in Washington, tweeted: “Fire at Trump Tower is out. Very confined (well-built building). Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!”
Trump’s son Eric tweeted: “Thank you to the amazing men and women of the NYFD [sic] who extinguished a fire in a residential apartment.”
Brassner, who sold several Warhol prints, is mentioned several times in the artist’s autobiography, the Andy Warhol Diaries, according to the New York Daily News. The paper also reported that Brassner had filed for bankruptcy in 2015 after “limited support from his family coupled with his medical problems” caused him to fall behind on his bills.
The fire commissioner, Daniel Nigro, told reporters outside the building: “This was a very difficult fire. As you can imagine, the apartment is quite large, we are 50 stories up. The rest of the building had a considerable amount of smoke. We had many floors to search, and stairways.”
He also said: “The upper floors, which are residence floors, are not sprinklered, but the building sure stood up quite well.”
Fire sprinklers were not required in New York City high-rises when Trump Tower was completed in 1983. Updates to the building code required commercial skyscrapers to install sprinklers, but owners of older residential high-rises are not required to install sprinklers unless the building undergoes major renovations.
Some fire-safety advocates pushed for a requirement that older apartment buildings be fitted with sprinklers when the city passed a law requiring them in new residential high-rises in 1999. Officials under then mayor Rudy Giuliani said that would be too expensive.
About 200 firefighters responded to Saturday’s incident, which was steadily upgraded in severity. Video on social media showed flames outside a few windows and black smoke billowing up from the building.
The New York police department 5th Avenue between West 55th Street and West 57th Street, and West 56th Street between Madison Avenue and 5th Avenue.
Some residents said they did not get any notification from building management to evacuate. Lalitha Masson, 76, said she had “a very, very terrifying experience”, telling the New York Times she did not receive any announcement about leaving, and that when she called the front desk no one answered.
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“When I saw the television, I thought we were finished,” said Masson, who lives on the 36th floor with her husband, Narinder, who is 79 and has Parkinson’s disease.
Masson started praying, she said, because she felt it was the end. “I called my oldest son and said goodbye to him because the way it looked everything was falling out of the window, and it reminded me of 9/11,” she said.
Three people were injured in an early-morning fire at the top of Trump Tower in January. A firefighter was taken to hospital and two people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
In addition to the president’s 66th-floor penthouse, Trump Tower houses the headquarters of the Trump OrganiZation on the 26th floor and other residences, offices and stores. In a marketing practice he has extended to other properties, Trump bills it as having 68.
Nigro said firefighters had gone up “with the secret service to check the president’s residence. Some smoke reached the rest of the building, whether it’s in the [president’s] apartment I don’t know right now.”
Often the scene of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations against or in support of the president, Trump Tower is guarded each day by extra security personnel. Nigro said extra firefighting resources are only in place when the president is in residence.