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Lackawanna fire site passed inspection in 2014 without sprinkler system

The former Bethlehem Steel Plant building that last month burned for four days passed a fire safety inspection in 2014 even though the facility lacked a fire sprinkler system or smoke detectors.

"A sprinkler system was not required because no changes were made to the building by its owner, Great Lakes Industrial Development," said Lackawanna Fire Commissioner Ralph Galanti. "There was no fire/smoke detection system. At the time of the inspection, one was not required. There were fire extinguishers. At the time they had enough in the building."

The seven-page report filed by Lackawanna Fire Marshal William Tojek in May 2014 also indicated all hydrants at the one million square-foot facility were working properly.

The inspection was done after Great Lakes acquired the building for $3.5 million but before any tenants moved in, Galanti said. New York State's Prevention and Building Code requires a building of that occupancy class to be inspected every three years, Galanti said.

At the time of the inspection, Tojek noted the building was "very clean" but empty, with the first tenant – Industrial Material Recycling – moving in plastic and cardboard.

[Gallery: Fire at former Bethlehem Steel site]

The massive fire that started early on Nov. 9 was declared under control after three days. It took four days for firefighters to extinguish the hot spots. Many of the structure's seven hydrants located inside and around the external perimeter were used to contain the fire to a portion of the steel, wood and cement building, Galanti said.

The fire gutted only part of the industrial business park, whose tenants engaged in industrial salvage, steel fabrication, welding, precision machining and tool reconditioning.

Buffalo's Fire Investigation Unit is now looking into the cause of the fire, believed to have started on the premises of Industrial Material Recycling, located along Lincoln Street in Bethlehem Park.

Up until 1983, when Bethlehem Steel closed its basic steel-making operations in Lackawanna, it maintained its own fire department, Galanti noted. The Lackawanna plant was the company's fourth largest facility.

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