Fatal fire sparks discussion about emergency accommodations for those with disabilities
A fatal fire broke out in a Brownsville apartment building last week, killing one person and injuring three others. The evacuation of the building left some tenants concerned about their wheelchair-bound neighbors and how they managed to exit the building safely.
Monica Bartley, a Brooklyn resident, utilizes a wheelchair and often thinks about how she might escape a fire should she ever face one.
She says an "evac chair" would be a helpful accommodation in cases of emergencies.
"I would like to see a system in place where maybe we would have evac chair," says Monica, "maybe the onus is on me to have an evac chair." Monica, like other individuals with disabilities, is entitled to an evac chair and other necessary accommodations from her landlord.
She says not enough tenants know that they can request these accommodations from their landlords, which is why it's so important for tenants to know their rights.
The Center for Independence of the Disabled offers many resources for people living with disabilities, as well as resources for landlords and businesses to accommodate those people. Dr. Sharon McLennon-Weir is the executive director of the center and says it may be difficult for tenants to get necessary accommodations from their landlords.
"This is why we offer know your rights workshops, we provide them to landlords as well," says Dr. McLennon-Weir, "but we provide them to our consumers and anyone that wants to work with CIDNY."
As of 2021, 4.5 million non-institutionalized Americans live with disabilities, according to the Pew Research Center.
In cases of a fire, the FDNY advises tenants with disabilities to stay inside their apartments if the fire is not inside their own unit.
The FDNY also urges tenants to notify their building management of their disabilities so they can notify fire responders in cases of emergency. They encourage tenants with disabilities who live in private buildings to make their local firehouse aware so that they can act on any information provided.