51 years ago on August 5th, 1970
A fire at One New York Plaza kills two and injures 35
The fire drew attention to the hazards introduced by new glass-and-steel skyscraper construction techniques and heat-sensitive elevator call buttons, which malfunctioned in the heat of the fire.
The new 50-story skyscraper had been completed just one year earlier at the tip of Manhattan and housed financial businesses, with Chase Manhattan Bank as a main tenant.
The fire broke out just before 6pm on the 33rd floor in a closet housing telephone equipment and spread across the 33rd and 34th floors. The tragedy came when an elevator carrying two security guards and a telephone technician mistakenly opened on the floor where the fire was raging because the increased heat triggered the heat-sensitive elevator call buttons, which were designed to detect body heat when someone placed their finger on them during normal operation.
The deadly fire advanced fire safety by drawing attention to the danger of heat-sensitive elevator buttons and the inadequate fireproofing insulation that had been applied to steel beams. The new steel-and-glass construction style also held in heat and the building did not have a sprinkler system, causing dangerous and difficult conditions for firefighters trying to bring the fire under control. During the fire at One New York Plaza, the fire burned hot enough to warp and twist the steel beams, with only concrete slabs left holding the floors from collapsing.
The spray-on insulation technique would again come under scrutiny 31 years later when the World Trade Center towers, which were built during the same time period, also suffered from inadequate spray-on fireproofing that had flaked off the steel or been knocked away by the impact, exposing bare steel to the full heat of the fire.
One New York Plaza would also suffer a steam turbine explosion in the basement of the building one month before the September 11th attacks and was one of many large buildings damaged due to flooding during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.