On the Williamsburg Storage Fire, or My Inarticulate Archivist Rage

I’ve been reading several articles covering the seven-alarm fire at CitiStorage, a records storage facility, on the East River in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. The fire department (FDNY) was called to the blaze early in the morning, but it had been extinguished with sprinklers and given a hearty watering-down anyway. The fire restarted a few hours later and the FDNY fought it all day; as of 11:30pm EST, it’s still smouldering.

To this (FDNY Instagram, http://instagram.com/p/yhfxx8R9dd/)

You’d think my Archivist Soul would be mourning the loss of those records, right? Nah. Instead, my Reactionary Archivist Rage has kicked in.

What is Reactionary Archivist Rage, you ask? It’s that “GAAAAAHHHGRRRRRRRRRGAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH FUCK THAT NOISE!!!!!! GAAAAAAAAAHHHHH WHO FUCKING DID THIS???? WHYYY!!!!! GAAAAAAH!!!!!!” feeling archivists get when we hear, see, or read about grossly improper treatment of records, books, data, etc. It’s that growing feeling of anger that comes after you shake your damn head and ruminate on the hows and whys and what-the-fucks of the situation that caused such madness and mayhem. The phrase “No one ever listens to the archivist” might be uttered.

When might Reactionary Archivist Rage pop up? When an archivist first reads about a massive fire at a records storage facility that reeks of things that make you go hmmmmmm.

Here’s my inarticulate Reactionary Archivist Rage about this fire.

First and foremost, who the fuck puts a records storage facility on a fucking river? And who pays to store their records along side a river? A river that is susceptible to storm surge flooding? A river that vastly exceeded it’s banks during Hurricanapocalypse Sandy and soaked everything along its banks? You know this and still leave your stuff there? What is the matter with you? Even if the records storage space is on the second floors or higher, the machinery that keeps ventilation and fire suppression systems are at risk. Then there’s the mold. It goes up walls. It moves with the air. Why would any archivist or records manager take that risk?

Oh, and the facility is also next door to an oil refinery. Good times! Iron Mountain chooses to locate it’s facilities in the middle of nowhere away from stuff like this, but, ya know, to each his own…… [facepalm]

This has to be arson. Has to be. It’s either arson or the storage company completely failed at its mission to provide for the long-term preservation of the items held in its care. According to this post by the New York Times, a sprinkler system on site extinguished the fire before the FDNY arrived. Okay. Good. There’s a working sprinkler system on site. Check. Then a second fire broke out — the one the FDNY was still battling as of this afternoon. But… what about that sprinkler system?

Or back-up systems. According to CitiStorage’s own website, they have “multiple fire protection systems.” That all failed. The company doesn’t state which systems were used, but Iron Mountain (THE big name in archival records storage) provides the following details regarding their suppression systems:

  • Clean air fire extinguishing system (CAFES) with a pre-action (dry pipe) sprinkler system as a backup.
  • Internal and external alarms continuously monitor motion detection, temperature, humidity, and smoke and fire detection.
  • DuPont™ FM-200® Waterless Fire Suppression Systems, plus OSHA-certified fire brigade and EPA-certified water treatment.
  • Continuous maintenance and service operations

Yes, Iron Mountain has had fires at its facilities in the past. Quite a few. Paper is a risk, especially when it’s in large concentrations and there are contractors working on the roof, but when you’re working with corporate and legal data, arson is a very strong possibility.

Gothamist reports that the site had been valued at $100 million. Niiiiice. The insurance pay-out on something like that has got to be huge, right? The storage company had some legal issues in the past. Maybe the proprietor decided to pull a Nero and let Rome burn just to be bitch. Who knows.

But those records. Those fucking records. Small businesses, large firms, CITY AGENCIES including the Health and Hospitals Corporation and the Administration for Children’s Services, and more. Public and private data just turned to ash, mush, or floated away in the breeze. To burn it all for what? And to think that no one would deem it suspicious? To put the local community at risk? To purposefully put first responders in harms way? How unprofessional. How unethical. How fucking horrible.

Yes, I do feel very badly for those who lost their files and feel absolutely horribly for those who thought they were making a good records management decision by outsourcing storage to this company. But more than that I am fucking pissed off that such an event could, would, happen. Be it the installation of ineffective or inappropriate fire suppression systems, poor maintenance of those systems, or fucking arson — GAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!


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