So far, President Trump’s only public reaction to the deadly Saturday fire at the midtown building that bears his name was a single tweet in which he incorrectly claimed that the fire was out (it wasn’t brought under control until an hour later) and talked up the high quality of the building.
Invoking the sturdiness of the edifice ignores a less savory truth about Trump’s real-estate career. The New York Daily News reports that in the 1990s, Trump personally lobbied against installing sprinklers in high-rise buildings like the ones he is famous for. To this day, Trump Tower lacks them on its residential floors.
Then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now a staunch Trump ally, proposed legislation mandating sprinklers in all residential buildings after a pair of deadly fires in the city in 1998. A New York Times article from 1999 lays out Trump’s opposition to the law as it was being debated:
“Although New York has taller towers and more high-rise residents than any other city in the nation, no sprinklers are required in apartment buildings here. Landlords and developers like Donald J. Trump have lobbied against sprinklers as unnecessary and expensive, costing up to $4 per square foot, or thousands of dollars for each apartment. New York instead has required that new construction be fire resistant.”
The New York Post reported that Trump spent thousands of dollars lobbying City Council members not to pass the bill, personally calling Archie Spigner and a co-sponsor of the bill to express his disapproval.
Trump was mollified when the law was altered to specify that existing buildings didn’t need to install sprinklers unless they underwent gut renovations. He did spend $3 million to install sprinklers at Trump World Tower, though he was not legally required to because he had filed the building permit before the law was passed.
A team of about 200 firefighters responded to the blaze on Saturday, which broke out around 6 p.m. They found an apartment on the 50th floor of the building engulfed in flames with an unconscious man, identified as 67-year-old Todd Brassner, inside. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition, and later died. His cause of death has not yet been announced. Six firefighters were also treated for minor injuries.
None of the Trumps were in the building at the time, and President Trump’s office and apartment are well above the 50th floor.
The fire on Saturday was the second at the building this year — an electrical fire caused two minor injuries in January.
“People feel safer with sprinklers,” the Times quoted Trump as saying in 1999. “But the problem with the bill is that it doesn’t address the buildings that need sprinklers the most. If you look at the fire deaths in New York, almost all of them are in one- or two-family houses.”
Some of his current tenants may take issue with that reasoning.