Lackawanna officials reflect on massive blaze at old Bethlehem Steel plant

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB)- You’ll still find crews working at the old Bethlehem Steel site just off Route 5 in Lackawanna; the building caught fire Nov. 9, 2016 and had to be demolished.

The clean-up process is ongoing, and it’s cost the City of Lackawanna more than $630,000 in demolition fees, overtime, and air quality testing.

The Lackawanna Fire Department isn’t very large, but records show they are fast. They arrived on scene within three minutes of the call going out. Immediately, they called for mutual aid from the Buffalo Fire Department and other surrounding agencies.

Lackawanna Fire Chief Ralph Galanti says while the official cause of the fire hasn’t been agreed upon, it was likely due to a high sodium light-bulb that blew, and melted either plastic or some other material below, which then ignited.

Mayor Geoff Szymanski says the city is currently in negotiations with Great Lakes Industrial, who owns the property, to try and get some reimbursement for the cost of the fire, the brunt of which was in demolition fees.

MORE | Former Bethlehem Steel Fire Photos

The state hasn’t helped financially in the way Szymanski was hoping it would, but he says he’s optimistic the city will get some support in the future.

“We pay our bills,” he tells News 4, stating that the city took full responsibility for the blaze.

While the fire has been ruled accidental, Galanti says Great Lakes could have taken an extra precaution.

He says other companies were renting storage space from Great Lakes, something the city didn’t know.

“We did do an inspection of the building when the company first bought it, it was basically clean. There were no businesses in there at the time. The company, Great Lakes, should have told us they were bringing in people, different companies, we could have been able to go in there and actually do a fire inspection.”

Szymanski says having to issue that evacuation order for Bethlehem Park last year still haunts him.

“That was not a way to wake up after Election Day. Seeing that gigantic black plume, that was breathtakingly horrific. But thank God there was no wind that day,” he says, nothing that Bethlehem Park could have gone up in flames too.

Great Lakes Industrial had promised to provide free exterior cleaning of houses in the Bethlehem  Park area, but Szymanski says that didn’t happen for everyone. The company put out a number that didn’t work according to the Mayor, and when the company corrected it, some residents were told their window for the offer had expired.

Szymanski says there based on the air quality tests the city paid for, residents of Bethlehem Park do not need to worry about long-term health risks.

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