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Could Something Like London Grenfell Tower Fire Happen In NYC?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The death toll has risen to 79 in a massive high-rise fire in London last week.

The entire 24-hour Grenfell Tower was engulfed in flames in less than an hour, and the fire was the deadliest in Britain in more than a century.

With so many skyscrapers in New York City, could a similar thing happen? And what should people do in the event of such an emergency?

CBS2's Elise Finch found out.

"How does something like that happen?" one man said of the London fire

The cause of the Grenfell Tower fire is still being investigated. But early reports suggest an external building material called cladding may be to blame.

In a recent renovation, insulation sandwiched between two aluminum panels was used on the building's façade, and it is that material that is believed to have accelerated the blaze.

Similar cladding is used on many New York buildings – including high-rises. So could a similar fire happen in New York?

Rick Chandler, commissioner of the city's Department of Buildings, said it is highly unlikely.

"We have a very rigorous fire-testing standard as part of our code. And so, those standards are listed for any manufacturer that wants to use that product in the city," Chandler said. "Once that material is installed, we require a special inspection to make sure that the material that was installed is the material the architect specified, and what meets our fire protection construction requirements."

Chandler also references fire alarms, elevator recalls and self-closing fire doors in apartments and stairwells. The features put some, but not all, New Yorkers at ease.

Keenan Lambert - East Flatbush Brooklyn
"We do have, you know, strong building codes, but not everything is followed to a T," said Keenan Lambert of East Flatbush, Brooklyn, "and I don't think our regulatory system is strong enough to prevent, you know, that from happening in every, you know, single high-rise."

So CBS2 asked people, do they know what to do if they are in a high-rise and a fire erupts?

"We're supposed to go to the stairwell and walk down and not take the elevator," said Pepper Evans of the Upper West Side.

"Try to get as many people out as you can," said John Miller of Jamaica, Queens.

Fire safety expert Jim Bullock said unless there is a fire in your apartment, the right thing to do is to stay put.

"You want to put towels underneath the door. You want to check the bathroom – sometimes there's vents in the bathroom – you want to make sure no smoke is coming there. Then you're going to go to the window, and you open the window a little bit at the top and a little bit at the bottom. If no smoke is coming in, leave it open. Never break the window, because then you can't control closing it," said Bullock, of NY Fire Consultants.

An FDNY representative said you do want to avoid elevators, but only use the stairs under guidance and the direction of the fire department.

If the fire is below you, using the stairs will expose you to smoke and possibly flames, and that is how people get hurt.

You are also advised to stay in communication with building management and the fire department and wait to be rescued.

Modern high-rises in New York City are designed to contain the fire to specific areas. So unless the fire actually started where you are, fire officials said staying put is usually the safest action you can take.

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