The Real Deal New York

To limit impact of future storms, Bloomberg proposes moving generators to rooftops

REBNY backs greater flexibility, but FDNY has concerns

November 07, 2012 09:30AM
By Adam Pincus

From left: Michael Bloomberg, REBNY’s Steven Spinola

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s suggestion that one way to limit the impact of flooding from future storms would be to give large building owners more flexibility about where generators — generally kept below grade — are placed. However, the Fire Department of New York, along with some contracting professionals, expressed concerns about the potential dangers and challenges of keeping backup generators on higher ground.

“Change the building code to put generators on the roof,” not in the basement, Mayor Bloomberg said during a press conference Sunday.

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, in a statement, told The Real Deal : “REBNY agrees with the mayor that we need to identify a safe way to locate generators and fuel somewhere other than below grade. We will be working with the city to identify such safe options that would offer a greater opportunity to keep pumps running and generators going to better serve our tenants.”

The city’s Fire Department, for one, has reservations about the mayor’s suggestion. “Placing generators on the roof of a large building does create many challenges such as how fuel is brought to the rooftop and where the fuel will be stored,” Frank Dwyer, Fire Department spokesperson, said. “In addition, the roof is a crucial location for firefighters fighting a fire, so generators can create problems.”

Currently, rooftop generators are rare, but permitted by the FDNY in some cases, in which safety measures are in place.

Even with the change, several high-profile examples from the recent storm showed that putting the generator above the flooding is no panacea. For example, if the fuel is stored in the basement, the pumps or the electrical system can be damaged and therefore unable to service the generators.

In one high-profile case, New York University’s Langone Medical Center at 550 First Ave. at 33rd Street had generators on the roof, but the power to the pumps used to get the fuel to the generators went out for a short period due to flooding, forcing the hospital to evacuate hundreds of patients on Oct. 29. Bellevue Medical Center, at 462 First Ave. at 26th Street, also evacuated despite having a backup generator on the rooftop.

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