7 Online - January 08, 2019
NEW YORK (WABC) -- An investigation is underway after a New York City firefighter fell to his death through a wide gap between westbound and eastbound lanes of the Belt Parkway.
Firefighter Steven Pollard didn't see the gap as he hopped from one side to the other while responding to a car accident.
This bridge replaced an old draw bridge that often got stuck and created gridlock. The new one costs $236 million and has only been open a little more than a year but is now at the center of a tragedy that may have been preventable
It is hard to tell but the new Mill Basin Bridge is actually two bridges, each three lanes, going in the opposite direction. Pollard may have had no idea he was crossing between two bridges separated by a gap partially hidden by vehicle barriers and the night. He fell five stories to his death.
"It's all being investigated now on the scene, so we'll know more about it, but there is a gap there of approximately two-and-a-half to three feet," said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
That gap which separates the east and west bound lanes of the bridge should have had some type of pedestrian barrier according to three bridge engineers we spoke to, including the editor of the Journal of Bridge Engineering.
"Someone should have looked at it and said, someone might want to go from one side to the other and this is too big a gap," aid Professor Anil Agrawal of The City College of New York.
Bridge Engineering Professor Agrawal says this is a big traffic safety oversight that the bridge owners, in this case, the city Department of Transportation, should have anticipated.
"The people who manage the safety of the bridge must imagine all kinds of scenarios where accidents can happen," he said.
The DOT would not respond to our questions about the gap but released a statement saying, "The DOT is working closely with the FDNY to investigate the circumstances of this tragic incident. We extend our deepest condolences to Firefighter Pollard's family and colleagues."
One bridge engineer we spoke to called the uncovered gap a design flaw that requires a fence or barrier. While all three engineers agreed the bridge is structurally sound, first responders or motorists who break-down on the bridge they say are at risk until there is some protection from the dangerous gap.
"In a rush moment you wouldn't think there are two separate bridges and I must be careful," said Professor Agrawal.
There does not appear to be any code requirement for a barrier but as one engineer put it, no bridge should have openings that pedestrians or first responders can fall through, especially ones that run nearly the entire length of the bridge.