According to fire officials, the apartment complex that suffered serious fire damage on Tuesday did not meet Columbia fire codes because it did not have manual pull alarms to alert residents of the fire.
The Ash Street Place apartments are just one of about 30 in the city lacking certain safety regulations. However, the owner of Ash Street Place Apartments will not face consequences because that city code was recently updated.
Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer told ABC 17 News that he met with the owner of the complex in October and informed them they needed to install those pull fire alarms. The owners have until October of this year to get those alarms installed and meet code.
Apartment complexes in Columbia were told of the new fire ordinance at the end of 2012. “Starting last October of 2012, we met with property owners and went out and explained what was needed and followed up with letters and asked that they reached compliance in a one-year time period,” said Fraizer.
ABC 17 News met with fire inspectors and went to some of the places not meeting safety standards to find out if this latest fire has them looking at safety now.
“Knowing its not up to code makes me nervous because you never know what might happen,” said Zenia Norman who lives in the apartments on South Providence. “It makes me feel slightly uncomfortable only because fires can happen at anytime,” said Salenia Shaw who lives at Campus View Apartments.
For people who live in the apartment on the list, hearing they don’t make current safety standards is a shock. However, fire crews aren’t surprised. “Not necessarily (surprising) because we say not up to code but it was a new code, said Assistant Columbia Fire Marshal, Tim Bach.
Any apartment with more than 16 units and three stories tall must have an automatic or pull fire alarm system. While fire fighters said the apartments aren’t at a high risk of danger, they said the new codes are there for a reason. “I think they are still safe, but this is just going to make it much more safe for the residents,” said Bach.
When ABC 17 News went to see if this increased safety is a priority, Campus View apartments knows the changes need to be made. However, the owners of the apartments were out of town and couldn’t say when the changes will happen.
ABC 17 News went to two more buildings on the list and called the owners, however our crews never got answers because it was after their business hours.
Still, people who live in the apartments want to see changes now. “I say sooner rather than later only because like we said it can happen at any time,” said shaw.
A pull alarm, when activated, sounds a loud siren alerting residents to a fire.
Fraizer says the alarms are essential in giving residents enough time to get out of a burning building.
“This fire occurred at 11:30 in the morning. If it had been 11:30 at night, people sleeping and no way to notify, no real way to notify tenants that there’s a fire, we could have had a different outcome,” said Fraizer.
During Tuesday’s fire, residents were banging on doors to alert neighbors of the fire danger instead of the alarms.
Fraizer said the big takeaway from this incident is that fire alarms can save lives.
Again the apartments have one year from when they were notified of the change to make improvements. Firefighters said they will turn the cases over to the prosecutors office if they are not changed by then.