For the second time in as many months, the circumstances surrounding the 2018 fatal movie-set fire in Harlem that killed FDNY Lieut. Michael R. Davidson has prompted a lawsuit against the city.
Scott Specht, an ex-Fire Marshal, filed a lawsuit earlier this month alleging he was retaliated against for refusing to sign off on the official Fire Department probe of the blaze in a century-old building on St. Nicholas Ave. on the set of the movie “Motherless Brooklyn,” starring Edward Norton and Alec Baldwin.
A Problem Building
Mr. Specht was the lead marshal investigating the fire that killed Lieutenant Davidson, who was responding with Engine Co. 69 to the late-night blaze in the basement of a five-story building that had a history of code violations.
In his filings, Mr. Specht maintained he was coerced by his bosses in the Bureau of Fire Investigation to confirm that it was a malfunction in the boiler flue that sparked the fire. He conceded that he initially went along with that theory, but came to believe that scenic-design alterations made to the basement and the movie-industry gage lighting used by the production company were what ignited the blaze.
“I was put in a room with high-ranking FDNY officials and was pressured into perjuring myself for four hours,” Mr. Specht told the Daily News. “I was so browbeat, I agreed. And then I pored through the evidence and realized I would be perjuring myself. I agreed with the boiler as the cause. I just wanted a full and impartial investigation. I wanted the [Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] to take over the case.”
He said the case was given to another Fire Marshal and he was sidelined as a punishment for not signing off on the case the way his bosses wanted.
FDNY: He’s Lying
A request by this newspaper for comment from the FDNY went unanswered. A department official told the Daily News that Mr. Specht’s charges were “lies” about an investigation that “was treated extremely seriously.”
In August, Lieutenant Davidson’s wife Eileen sued the city because it issued the permit despite “knowledge and awareness” that there were open code violations at the location.
The family’s lawsuit alleges the city knew about alterations of the interior, the fact the sprinklers were not working and that there was flammable and combustible material brought onto the site.
Four active and retired members of the FDNY said in interviews that the circumstances surrounding the fire raised issues about regulating an industry that has significant influence.
'Need FDNY Presence'
“Getting the permit to film costs you only $300 and the people renting their properties are making thousands of dollars, so why not have an FDNY presence or fire watch on the set right along?” one said. “It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry.”
An FDNY presence is required only when a production is using fireworks or an open flame.
Mr. Davidson was the son of a retired 26-year veteran, Firefighter Robert Davidson, who also spent most of his career in that firehouse. Michael also has a brother, Eric Davidson, who is a Firefighter.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.