A fire marshal with the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) claims that in investigation into a Harlem fire that led to a firefighter’s death was rigged so that Edward Norton’s production company wouldn’t be blamed for the blaze.
According to court documents obtained by the New York Daily News, Fire Marshal Scott Specht accused various superiors at the FDNY of waging a campaign of retaliation against him because he reported the alleged cover-up to the New York City Department of Investigation.
Specht isn’t speaking to the press about the matter but his attorney Peter Gleason told the Daily News that his client’s treatment has been “deplorable and disgusting.”
Gleason went on to reference Specht’s status as an Iraq War veteran in a statement attacking the accused FDNY officials:
Specht, a combat veteran, doesn’t think twice about flying his Black Hawk into harm’s way and will never be intimidated by a few … bureaucrats who want to besmirch the legacy of a fallen comrade while protecting a pack of Hollywood phonies.
On March 22, a building caught fire in Harlem on St. Nicholas Ave. during the filming of “Motherless Brooklyn,” a crime drama being produced by Norton’s Class 5 Films. Norton himself directed and stars in the movie.
Firefighter Michael Davidson rushed into the fire and died after being overwhelmed by fumes while battling that Harlem inferno.
In the notice of claim, Specht alleges that his investigation–backed by evidence–determined that Class 5 Films illegally tampered with the building’s electrical system and that screws installed by the film’s crew punctured the building’s electrical wiring.
“There is no doubt in the professional opinion of [Specht] that Edward Norton’s movie production company was the precipitating cause of the fire that caused the death of Firefighter Davidson,” the claim notes.
In April, the FDNY’s official report blamed the blaze on heat from a boiler ventilation pipe in the building’s basement. Nearby combustible materials were then ignited, according to the official story. Internally, Specht raised vociferous doubts about the FDNY’s assessment and declined to endorse his bosses’ ruling, according to anonymous sources cited by the Daily News.
Specht’s contention is based on the status of the boiler after the fire.
According to the notice, crews who dug through five stories worth of rubble found that the boiler and its encasement were wholly intact. There was also a wooden two-by-four at the base of the boiler that wasn’t and a plastic bag was still hanging off the boiler at the time of this discovery.
John Knox, a retired fire marshal who was given access to the photos of the boiler, told the Daily News:
If there was any substantial fire in that area it would have taken the gloves. They wouldn’t be there. Instead they are just hanging on the boiler. And the wood would have been charred. There would have been some damage to the wood, and there isn’t.
Marvin Putnam, attorney for Class 5 Films, said the allegations are “reckless and untrue.”
“Out of respect for those involved, and to allow the FDNY to conduct a thorough investigation, Class 5 and Edward Norton have stayed silent,” Putnam told the Daily News. “These allegations have insinuated that the production caused the fire and accused the FDNY of engaging in a cover-up to protect some unnamed Hollywood elites — all to generate attention-grabbing press coverage. This muckraking ignores a tragic reality — these are real people who have been unfairly and wrongfully accused of causing a firefighter’s tragic death.”
The FDNY, for their part, says that Specht initially agreed with the boiler finding but later changed his mind due to grievances with his superiors.
Specht says he was retaliated against—that higher-ups illegally blocked his retirement and later had him placed on desk duty—after he refused to endorse the boiler narrative and because he later reported his coverup allegations to another department.
In the filing, Specht isn’t seeking monetary damages. Rather, he’s asking for the investigation of the Harlem fire to be transferred to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for an independent audit.
[image via Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation]