Association History (1978-2006)

In 1972, an impromptu telephone call between two high-rise fire safety directors began the unofficial birth of the Fire Safety Director’s Association. Robert Elko, from Morgan Guaranty, and Dennis Rice, from Irving Trust, met along with George Semus to exchange some common fire safety problems and how to deal with the new fire protection systems for their buildings. Some of the discussions were about the new fire protection technologies that were being introduced into the marketplace: Halon chemical systems; hydraulic calculated sprinkler systems; quick release type sprinkler heads; ABC type fire extinguishers; improved smoke detection systems and stairwell pressurization. Before long, Bill Sarnelli joined this informal gathering. Ray McDermott and Bill Whalen soon appeared on the scene. Later, Mr. Whalen would become a key advisor for this “informal gathering” of fire safety directors.


After two disastrous high-rise fires (One New York Plaza & 919 3rd Ave) and innumerable legal cases, Local Law # 5 of 1973 became a central point in the growth of the Association. More than just steel and concrete, adequate fire protection and a process to safely evacuate a high-rise building were introduced as a means to protect property and provide life safety for the occupants. The City of New York Fire Department with the blessing of the city fathers, created the most restrictive law of its kind for high-rise buildings. The new law called for Fire Safety Directors to be on duty for each building over 100 feet in height or occupied with more than 100 people above or below the street or more than 500 people in total.

Mid 1970s

In the mid 70’s at each meeting a guest speaker gave noteworthy information regarding fire protection and life safety. In attendance at these meetings were the F.D.N.Y and a large group of fire safety directors. Both groups conducted high-rise building fire drills and pre-planning inspections. The collaboration from these meetings, drills and inspections created new era teamwork. In 1978, the informal assembly of fire safety directors became an official organization, and Robert Elko was elected the charter President. Through the efforts of Bob Elko, Ray McDermott, George Semus, Bill Sarnelli, Dennis Rice and Michael Laffey the reorganization and membership drive flourished. This dedicated team set the tone for placing the Association on the right track. These six gentlemen were the founding fathers and later charter members of our Association.


The organization was officially named the Fire Safety Directors of Greater New York. By-laws were drafted and the organization was becoming a resounding association. On April 28, 1982, the Association constitution and by-laws were officially adopted by the membership. Under Michael Laffey’s tenure as the 2nd President, the Association instituted a fire safety seminar program. The annual seminars had a great impact on the professional growth of this association. In 1984, Local Law # 16, which required fire protection, elevators, smoke control and life safety for new and existing buildings also committed to a Fire Safety Director for hotel occupancies. Successful and growing years of the organization were following by Sandy Sansevero and Dan Nastro in their terms as President.

Other association activities include fire safety training with the local fire department and private industry. Our charitable endeavors include such outstanding organizations as: New York Firefighter’s Burn Foundation; New York City Fire Museum; New York Fire Safety Foundation; Edward W. Whalen Memorial Fund; FDNY/NYPD Silver Shield Game; New York State Fire Safety Consortium and a host of other worthy charities. In our 10th year of service, over 250 participants attended our annual seminar on “Fire Technology for Today.” This was also the year that all LL No. 5 buildings had to be in frill compliance with either compartmentation requirements or a full sprinkler system. We also celebrated the year with a dinner dance at Governor’s Island.


On May 4, 1988 another major high-rise office building fire occurred at the First Interstate Bank Building in Los Angeles. The fire demonstrated the enormity of high-rise structure fires. If fires in related occupancies with similar fire loads are not detected and suppressed in their incipient stages, they may burn until all usable fuel is consumed, growing so large that the fire department cannot quickly control them. The following year the Fire Department of the City of New York created a committee that would meet to discuss problems, explore solutions and evaluate new technologies to better serve the occupants of various types of occupancies within the five Boroughs of New York. This committee became known as the “Industry Advisory Board.” Today, several members of our Association serve on the JAB Board. This same year, the FSDA supported a change to the local law that would provide for a dedicated Fire Safety Director in all Class “E” buildings over one million square feet or greater than 350 feet in height. Unfortunately the bill did not pass the City Council.

Federal Hotel/Motel Fire Safety Act -1990

To this day, the FSDA has strong ties to seeing a dedicated FSD for each high-rise building with a Class “E” fire alarm system. In 1990, the Federal Hotel/Motel Fire Safety Act had all impact on all Class J occupancies since it helped push for all hotels and motels three stories or above to be fully sprinkled. At our spring seminar the Association chose to bestow the Fire Safety Director Award upon C. Tom Shires, MD. Dr. Shires was instrumental in establishing burn care at New York Hospital/Cornell Burn Center. Prior to coming to New York City Dr. Shires was an attend¬ing physician at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. He was the doctor who attended to the mortal wounds of President John F. Kennedy. Today, New York Hospital is one of the busiest Burn Centers in the nation. It has expanded its role from burn care to include burn prevention, research and a skin bank.


On January 23, 1991 a 12-alarm fire in a downtown Philadelphia high-rise office building would again demonstrate the value of a fire sprinkler system. This fire burned out of control for 18 hours. After destroying 10 floors of this structure, it was finally controlled by the activation of the sprinkler system. The limited area sprinklers were partially installed on the upper floors. It was the first time in modern history that a super structure was in jeopardy of a major structural collapse.

Later that year on September 13th the Association converged onto the Hauppauge Country Club to hold the first Edward W. Whalen Golf Tournament. This tournament later became one of the first fundraisers for The New York Firefighters Burn Foundation Children’s Burn Camp. Over the years, the Association has given support to this worthy charity that provides young burn survivors a summer treat.


On a cold Friday afternoon, February 26, 1993, the nation was shocked to learn the World Trade Center [WTC] sustained a terrorist attack. The magnitude of this response was monu¬mental, and it would test to the fullest the capabilities of the fire department, the fire safety director, the building engineering staff, the emergency medical units and the law. After this event many FSDs were given extensive training on “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Also during this year, two FSDA members Sandy Sansevero and Jack Murphy assisted the FDNY in re-writing the new certification test for institutions that conduct the Fire Safety Director training programs.

Fire Flyers

FIREFLYER 1990-1998

September 11, 2001

On this date our country witnessed terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on Flight 93. This flight was brought down by heroic passengers who prevented the jetliner from slamming into another building. The WTC/FSD complex fire safety team was made up of nine FSDs on duty that day in addition to each floor having fire warden teams. Confusion At First – Michael Hurley, a PA/FSD, stationed in Tower 2, didn’t really know what happened after peeking up at Tower 1. In the first few minutes of the attack, the initial fire alarm voice communication in Tower 2 asked people to stay in place. Parts of the building, airplane debris, and victims hitting the plaza made evacuation hazardous. But all this changed when the second plane hit the towers, 19 minutes later.

As long as the FAS were still operational, the FSDs were making announcements that the situation was serious and that occupants should evacuate immediately. Hurley survived the collapse. As debris continued to rain down on the Plaza, the FSDs help redirect many evacuees to the concourse level that led away from the towers and onto the Church Street side of the Plaza. The FSDs and many floor fire wardens during the evacuation, stood fast alongside the fire department at the incident command posts and in the stairways of both towers. Using his flashlight and whistle, Fire Warden Brian Clark (Tower 2,84th Floor) led groups of people down the stairs. On the 81st floor, they encountered a trapped victim. While the groups continued to proceed down the stairs, Clark and another person pulled the victim out from under wreckage. All three made it out alive. Knowing that the fire department’s portable radio system was not functioning properly, FSD James Corrigan and a fire chief tried to make their way to the old command center to see if they could activate the intercom system and make an evacuation announcement that all emergency personnel could hear.

Also on this infamous day FDNY 1st Battalion Chief Larry Byrnes (Ret. / Past FSDA President) responded and helped contribute to reestablishing a command presence at the site. He was quoted as saying “Old firefighters never retire; they just go away for awhile,” which attributes as a fitting statement to praise all those who never wavered in their duty to save others.


The Fire Safety Directors who perished on September 11, 2001

Lawrence Boisseau

James Corrigan FDNY Captain (Ret.) Engine 10

Richard Fitzsimons

Philip Hayes FDNY Firefighter (Ret.) Engine 217

Robert Mayo

William Wren FDNY Firefighter (Ret.) Ladder 166

Their unwavering duty and valiant efforts along with the members of the Fire Department and the two Police Departments helped save many lives that day.


During the first few days and weeks that followed 9/11, the Association responded to many requests for assistance from the FDNY Special Operations Command (SOC). One of our members James Ellson, FDNY Captain (ret.) and former Executive Assistant to Deputy Chief Ray Downey at SOC and USAR Task Force Leader was instrumental in helping the Department in the initial efforts to recover from the terrorist attack. One of the earlier requests was for help in identifying a stair tower in which several victims were found. In the floor plans FDNY had, the stairs were designated by number (Stair 1, for example). Over the years, all stairs had come to be identified with a letter of the alphabet, such as “Stair A”. Several attempts were made to obtain current building plans from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PA). The PA said it had already given the plans to the command post. The question then becomes, which Command Post – the City Police Department, the PA Police Department, or the Office of Emergency Management?

Chief Byrnes (ret.) was able to provide the information concerning stair identifications that same day. Concerned with hazardous conditions such as the wind’s effects on the remaining panes of broken glass and the conditions of the facades of the surrounding structures, the FSDA network was asked to contact individual Fire Safety Directors and ask them to report to their respective buildings to assist with the erect of scaffolding and tarps that would enwrap the buildings and help alleviate unsafe conditions.


In 2002, the FSDA testified before the City Council and National Institute of Standards and Technology [NIST] to enhance life safety needs with in high-rise buildings. The Association supported the creation of the NIST “The National Construction Safety Team Act” to investigate major building collapses and structural fire incidents, and secured from the National Fire Protection Association [NFPA] a commitment to create a High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee. On March 1st the Association formed the first Task Force to develop a High-Rise Office Building Evacuation Plan for Emergencies Other Than Fire. Upon completing their tasks for these all-hazard emergencies, the Task Force sought the assistance of City of New York Fire Department / Bureau of Fire Prevention to discuss the their conclusions.

Based on this, a joint task force was developed to formalize the City Emergency Action Plans [EAP] for high-rise office structures. Some of the EAP Plan highlights are:

• Designate the Fire Safety Director [FSD] as the EAP Director

• FSD/EAP Enhance Training & Education

• EAP Training – Floor Warden Teams & the Building Emergency Response Team

• The use of elevators for all-hazard emergencies other than fire

• Accommodations for People with Disabilities
• Fire Department Building Information Card
• New Evacuation Protocols for Internal Relocation, Partial/Full Building and Shelter-in-Place Modes
• EAP Drill Log Book
• EAP Evacuation Drills
• Submission of the EAP Plan to the Fire Department for approval
• Establish a neighbor notification protocol when conducting such a drill.

During the 3-1/2 years that followed 9/11, the Association has also made great strides to enhance other FSDA high-rise concepts. Under Local Law 26, the following concepts that were presented before several pubic forums have been embraced:

• Enhanced fire proofing for structural support members
• Fire Tower (stairwell) option
• Elevator Lobbies are enclosed above street level
• Ban truss construction above 75 feet
• Relocate air intakes above grade no less than 20 feet
• Retroactive

o Sprinkler system
o Photo-luminous exit path markings within the stair towers

Over our thirty-one years, the Association has seen many improvements with fire protection systems and we have witnessed that the value of a dedicated fire safety director when a crisis of any magnitude occurs within a high-rise structure. Through these years, the Association’s life safety collaboration in high-rise structures has proved to be a cooperative relationship with the Fire Department of the City of New York.