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7 EYEWITNESS NEWS INVESTIGATES: Lackawanna steel plant fire could have been prevented, source says

Building had no sprinkler systems installed
Posted at 7:09 PM, Nov 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-09 19:09:07-05

7 Eyewitness News has learned exclusively that red flags were raised inside Lackawanna City Hall about the former Bethlehem Steel building that caught fire on Wednesday.

Sources tell 7 Eyewitness News the building was the subject of an internal dispute within City Hall just a few years ago.

Questions were raised about whether the old steel plant could be used for a new storage business without the installation of basic springler systems – especially since the materials being stored included propane tanks attached to RVs and other tanks related to steel manufacturing.

Investigative Reporter Charlie Specht went to the scene of the fire Wednesday to ask Joe Geyer, the city's code enforcement officer, and other city officials about the situation.

Specht: “We have a source that's telling us this building was never inspected for fire. Is that true?”
Geyer: “No.”
Specht: “When was the last time this was inspected?”
Geyer: “You would have to check with our fire inspector.”

Geyer then told 7 Eyewitness News to take those questions to Geyer's boss, Lackawanna Development Director Fred Heinle, who oversees all new business development in the city.

“That's completely false,” Heinle said. “Our fire inspector has been on the property as recently as two months ago. I have a good relationship with the new owners…They were doing activities, but we stopped them, and since then we have brought it under control.”

Specht: “Before these companies moved in, was there ever a fire alarm system or a sprinkler system put in?”

Heinle: “I can't speak to that. I don't have any knowledge of that.”

We then asked Heinle if we could see the fire inspection reports that he says were filled out two months ago by Fire Inspector Bill Tojek – who is also a city fireman.

“I don't know if I can release them, but I will certainly ask our law department if we can release those inspection reports,” Heinle said. 

Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski said Tojek was too busy to speak with us.

The mayor did give us a moment of his time – but only after Heinle pulled him aside to brief him on the matter.

Specht: “Were there ever sprinklers or fire suppression systems put in this place?”

"I'm not aware of anything like that,” Szymanski said, “but I'm not aware of all buildings in the City of Lackawanna. I am not aware of any buildings with or without them, but as mayor I wouldn't be given that information anyway."

Specht: “Was this building up to code?”

“As far as I know it was,” Szymanski said. “We haven't had any issues with this building so far – and then this happened this morning.”