The Brown Administration, apparently seeking to bolster its emergency demolition order on the Great Northern grain elevator, obtained a letter from the fire commissioner advocating for the demolition. The letter was and included in court documents filed and referenced during testimony of Permits & Inspections Commissioner James Comerford in an evidentiary hearing on Monday January 3 in the Campaign for Greater Buffalo's lawsuit against the City of Buffalo and owner ADM. Attorneys for ADM stoked the flames during Comerford's testimony and a summation before State Supreme Court Justice Emilio Colaiacovo.
The letter did not include any references to any BFD personnel inspecting the site in person, and all information and conclusions seem to be based on a briefing in Comerford's office. There were three interesting points, beyond the expected blather of "a multitude of life safety hazards."
The first was that BFD was told the demolition would take six months. Six months not because of the brick sheathing, but, we assume, the almost comically overbuilt steel framing featuring over almost 50 main support columns 30" x 29" in section that rise all the way to the top.
The second is that the fireboat Cotter "travels that section of the canal quite frequently, especially during the upcoming winter season [sic] as it is tasked with keeping the canal clear of ice for the ships that dock at various locations..." Um, there is only one commercial site on the City Ship Canal that would require passing the Great Northern: a sand company well to the south on the opposite bank. It generally plans to store enough sand to make it through the winter by November. The winter navigation season is determined by the Welland Canal and Lake Erie. There's no need for breaking ice in the City Ship Canal if there is no shipping.
Third, and the reason anyone would be interested in what the BFD thinks of the Great Northern: "Firefighting access to any section of this building will be severely limited due to the potential of collapse." But to need firefighting access one presumes there could be a fire. In a structure built to be fireproof? That has never in its 125-year history had a structural fire? Not while it was storing almost 3,000,000 bushels of wheat on any given day, not since the bins were emptied out in 1981, not since ADM bought it in 1993? That doesn't have any vagrants trying to keep warm besides the odd pigeon?
The BFD offers this: "there are still combustibles that will burn inside." What, historic Henry's Hamburgers wrappers from 1981? The odd rope? The fire commissioner offers no evidence.
Here is what Scientific America said about the Great Northern in a cover article about its construction in 1897: "The structure is composed wholly of stone, brick and steel,and there is no wood or' other inflammable matter in the building or used in its construction...excepting the roller top des k of the elevator superintendent, and this is located in his office. which is nothing more or less than a brick vault with a brick and steel ceiling.
"The transformer room is a solid brick vault with arch brick sills resting on steel girders. The construction of the building is such that it is absolutely proof against fire, and the protecting of grain stored therein by insurance is almost a sentimental safeguard. The structure has been so recognized by the Board of Underwriters in the making of the rate for this hazard so low that the cost of insurance is of but little moment."
There hasn't been a structural fire at the Great Northern in its 125-year existence. There is not, despite ADM's attorney so stating, "a likelihood of fire." The letter from the fire commissioner and the touting of it in a nearly hour-long radio interview given by Mayor Brown and Comerford on the afternoon the emergency demo order was announced, not to mention affadavits and court proceedings, is a shameful CYA operation. The only thing at risk of fire is a fibber's pants.