- GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images
- The fire that ravaged Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral wasn’t spotted for 30 minutes after the alarm sounded because of a mix-up over the building’s layout, according to a new report.
- A fire security employee recieved the alert and told a security guard to check it out, but the guard then reported there was no fire, The New York Times reported.
- The fire was raging out of control and threatened the structure of the cathedral by the time staff noticed it, and firefighters then battled to stop the cathedral from collapsing completely.
- The mistakes led to a dispute between cathedral and the fire safety company. Both insist that their staff did the right thing, the Times reported.
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A new account on the fire that gutted Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral sheds light on initial mistakes in locating the blaze that gave firefighters less time to prevent the 850-year-old icon from collapsing.
According to The New York Times, the fire raged without notice for 30 minutes after the smoke alarm was sounded because of a mix up over the layout of the building, at which point some crucial time in the rush to save the structure was lost.
The smoke alarm alerted a fire security employee that was monitoring the system in a building beside the cathedral at 6.18 p.m. on April 15, 2019, the Times reported. That employee then rang a security guard who was standing near the altar and told him to check it out.
The guard went, and reported that there was no fire.
But it was 30 minutes later that they learned the guard had gone to the wrong part of the cathedral – a connected building called the sacristy.
- PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
The security employee had called his boss rather than the fire department, who did not pick up initially, the Times reported.
When his boss called back, they realized what had happened and he told the security guard to immediately look at the attic of the main cathedral – where the fire in the building’s famous and intricate wooden attic was burning out of control.
The mix up produced what the Times called a “bitter round of finger-pointing over who was responsible for allowing the fire to rage unchecked for so long.”
The system, the Times reported, took six years to put together, but as it warned of a fire and tried to tell employees where it had been detected, it produced a “nearly indecipherable message.”
In telling employees that there was a fire, the system also gave them a quadrant of the cathedral where it was detected, and a code made up of letters and numbers that tells them what detector had sensed smoke.
- THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
In this case, the zone was the “Attic Nave Sacristy,” the Times reported.
According to the Times, it is not clear what parts of the alert that the fire security employee understood or told the security guard, though Elytis, the fire security company, said that the critical parts were passed on.
The Times also reported that the fire security employee had been working at the cathedral for just three days before the fire, and that he was supposed to leave work before the fire but worked another shift because another employee was not at work.
Arnaud Demaret, Elytis’ CEO, told the Times that the employee was still in shock, and that the company had been sent death threats over the fire.
A Notre Dame spokesperson told the Times that the security guard was never told to check the cathedral’s roof, but Demaret also defended what his employee said about the fire’s location.
“There is only one wooden framework,” he said. “It’s in the attic.”
“Had the church employee gone up to the attic right after my employee alerted him, he would have seen the smoke.”
Investigators are still looking for the cause of the fire, though police said it was not caused by a criminal act.
Firefighters were in a life-threatening race against time to stop the cathedral from collapsing, which ended with the loss of its steeple and wooden structure but the preservation of its towers, main structure, famous stained-glass windows, and many of the world-renowned treasures inside.
French President Emmanuel Macron promised after the fire was brought under control: “We will rebuild it. All together.”
Read The New York Times’ full investigation into the Notre Dame Cathedral Fire here.
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