DA looking into ‘potentially catastrophic’ conditions at apartment building
Article from The National Law Review
In the wake of a fire escape collapse in Center City that caused one death and two very serious injuries, the City of Philadelphia reviewed whether to mandate the inspection of fire escapes. Ultimately, the City of Philadelphia enacted a bill that amended Section F-1011.1 of the Philadelphia Fire Code. This amendment requires building owners to conduct very specific inspections of their building’s fire escapes and fire escape balconies. A report of the inspection must be filed with the Department of Licenses and Inspections (“L&I”).
The initial deadline for filing these inspection reports is July 1, 2017. If the construction of the fire escape or fire escape balcony was completed after July 1, 2007, the first inspection must be conducted within ten years after construction of the fire escape or fire escape balcony was completed. For any fire escapes or fire escape balconies that underwent a restoration within one year prior to July 1, 2017, the building owner may apply for an extension of the initial inspection. Thereafter, building owners must file inspection reports every five years following the submission of the initial report.
A “fire escape” is defined by the ordinance as “a system of metal landings, balconies, stairs, or ladders attached to a building that are not classified as an exterior stairway and are intended or designed to aid in egress from a building in an emergency.” A “fire escape balcony” is defined as “a balcony that projects from the building face and is intended for use in conjunction with a fire escape, an exit stair, or an area of refuge.” Given these very broad definitions, care should be taken not to omit any required component from the inspection.
Only a Pennsylvania licensed professional engineer who is experienced in the practice of structural engineering can perform the inspections. The inspection report must reference all conditions of the fire escape and fire balcony including, but not limited to, significant deterioration, movement, and mechanical operations.
If an unsafe condition is found, then the engineer must immediately notify the owner and, within 12 hours of discovery, notify L&I’s Emergency Services Unit. Within 24 hours of receiving notice of an unsafe condition, the owner must take any and all actions necessary to protect public safety. Within 10 days of receiving a report identifying an unsafe condition, the owner must commence remediation of the unsafe condition and work continuously without interruption until the unsafe condition has been corrected.
If the engineer determines that the condition is safe, so long as certain repairs and maintenance are undertaken, then the owner is responsible for complying with the engineer’s instructions within the time frame specified in the inspection report. If the fire escape or balcony is determined to be safe by the engineer, then the engineer shall post upon the fire escape a tag or placard (made of weather-resistant reflective material) that clearly and legibly states the date of the inspection, the date by which a new inspection is required (five years from the last inspection), and the name and contact information of the engineer who conducted the inspection.
It was a routine operation at a routine apartment-building fire using a piece of equipment that was tailor made for this vertical city.
And yet somehow, a veteran New York City firefighter fell to his death.
The equipment is called a tower ladder. It is a familiar sight, a telescoping ladder mounted atop a fire truck with a walled platform or “bucket” that hoists firefighters up onto roofs and other high places so that they do not have to climb up and down.
On Thursday in Ridgewood, Queens, Firefighter William Tolley, 42, was lifted to the roof of a five-story building in a tower ladder to ventilate the roof and allow smoke and hot gases to escape. One moment, witnesses said, he was in the bucket, suspended near the roof parapet. The next moment, he was plummeting to the street.
The Fire Department and federal officials are investigating the cause of the accident, a process that could take months. But experienced fire officials and equipment experts said the accident underscored the dangers inherent in working high above the street.
“For a painter, for a roofer, for a firefighter, leaving a roof and getting to a ladder, whatever type — there’s always the danger of falling,” said Glenn Corbett, an associate professor of fire science at John Jay College.
Still, deaths in falls from ladders remain rare. In 2007, a firefighter in Brooklyn was climbing down a ladder while holding tools in both hands when the heavy saw slung across his back shifted and knocked him off balance, federal investigators found.
A former deputy chief, Charles R. Blaich, said that the most recent firefighter death in New York City that he knew of involving a tower ladder was 40 years ago, in 1977: A firefighter tried to jump from a fifth-floor fire escape of a burning Manhattan building to the bucket of a tower ladder and missed.
The tower ladder had been developed only about 10 years earlier, at the request of John T. O’Hagan, a department chief who eventually became fire commissioner.
Professor Corbett said that Chief O’Hagan was inspired by similar devices used by utilities to raise their workers to poles and wires. The Chicago Fire Department was already using a ladder device known as a snorkel that extended like an elbow unbending. Chief O’Hagan wanted a device like the tower ladder instead, because it extended by telescoping, allowing it to work in narrower spaces, Professor Corbett said. Today, 60 of the 143 Fire Department ladder trucks use tower ladders.
In the case of Firefighter Tolley, witnesses have offered differing accounts. Mayer Weber, a former volunteer firefighter in Fallsburg, N.Y., who was working on a construction site near the Queens fire on Thursday, said that he saw Mr. Tolley in the bucket signaling something to the firefighter below on the truck who was controlling the ladder. The door of the bucket was open and the bucket moved.
“It looked like he was trying to get out onto the roof,” Mr. Weber said on Friday. “It’s possible that what might have happened is that the bucket hit the parapet roof, and since he was halfway out of the bucket on his way out, it bounced him right out.”
Also on Friday, fire officials announced the cause of the blaze: religious incense that residents left burning in their second-floor apartment when they left the building.
“Compounding the tragic loss of Firefighter Tolley’s life is that the fire he responded to and fought bravely could have been prevented,” Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a statement. “You should not leave objects such as incense or candles burning while unattended.”
DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) — Property owners in Dubuque can get some financial help upgrading aging fire escapes. The city council approved that funding Monday night.
A state law passed in 2015 requires an engineer to inspect all fire escapes at least once every five years.
In Dubuque, there are about 60 buildings with fire escapes, and many of them are as old as the building itself. A third party engineering inspector will check each fire escape for rust and to make sure they are properly anchored to the building.
“For life safety purposes, really it’s our duty to go out to make sure these places are safe because it could be a disaster in times of emergency,” Rick Steines, Dubuque Fire Chief, said.
Dubuque will give a building owner up to five thousand dollars to repair or replace the fire escape.
JERSEY CITY – Gladys Ortiz has repeatedly gone to court over lost rent checks. Heavy rain often flooded Candice Johnson’s basement apartment, damaging most of her belongings. Kathy Green was forced out of her home when a massive fire tore through her apartment building.
The three women, who live in separate Jersey City buildings, all have one thing in common: their apartments are owned by River Edge Management, recently rebranded Trendy Management.
But a number of people who reside in the buildings owned by the Clifton-based company say their living space is anything but trendy.
Residents around the city began confiding in pastors and religious leaders about deplorable living conditions – mold in bathrooms, leaking ceilings, lack of heat. Jersey City Together, a multi-faith social justice organization, met with hundreds of residents who live in Trendy Management buildings and documented the conditions inside.
The organization found many living with bedbugs and some being forced out of their homes for allegedly violating rent control laws.
On Sunday afternoon, nearly 200 people gathered at St. Paul Episcopal Church to call for action against Trendy Management, with hopes of finding solutions for unsafe living conditions. The company’s owner, Esther Kaplan, was scheduled to attend the event, but cancelled hours before the meeting.
Kaplan did not directly address any of the allegations when asked for comment by The Jersey Journal.
The Rev. Jessica Lambert, from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, said Jersey City Together met with hundreds of residents over the past nine months. Trendy Management is responsible for dozens of buildings around the city, some that have not had heat all winter.
“If these were isolated incidents we could maybe hand Trendy Management a list of plumbing problems and needed repairs,” Lambert said. “Maybe chalk it up to some missed communications and missed messages, a few bad supers and call it a day. But no, what is most egregious and most unconscionable is all of these stories seem to be a part of an overarching business strategy.”
Ortiz often pays the rent for her Gifford Avenue apartment months in advance, but still she frequently gets court notices from the management company. Her most recent notice came in December and was dismissed when she arrived at the courthouse.
“I’m very tired and angry,” Ortiz told the group. “On top of the rent I have to pay for these lawyers, the court fees.”
There was never a solution for the constant flooding in Johnson’s basement apartment on Bergen Avenue that destroyed her belongings, forced her to sleep elsewhere some nights, and led to mold inside. She moved after one year.
“There was no way I was going to put up with their negligence longer than that,” she said.
Green has lived on Garfield Avenue for more than 30 years. Two years ago, a fire ravaged the building and the management company was slapped with 48 fire code violations. One resident fell through the fire escape trying to evade the blaze and officials said several smoke detectors were not working.
Many of her longtime neighbors never returned, with new tenants paying more than double what previous residents had paid, she said. Addressing Mayor Steve Fulop – who was sitting in the front row alongside half of the city council – Green said the city “can’t let this continue to happen anymore.”
“Mr. Mayor, River Edge shows a total disregard for humanity and that they don’t adhere to the laws that offer protection to common citizens,” she said. “And by doing so they denigrate peoples civil rights.”
Fulop vowed immediate action would be taken against the management company. He told The Jersey Journal after the meeting last week was the first time he had heard of the conditions at the management company’s properties.
“I’m at a loss for words,” the mayor told the group. “I don’t really know what to say because I don’t think anyone should have to live in that sort of situation. And while Esther Kaplan may not realize today her commitment, we will help her this week with city inspectors.
The group then marched to 205 Monticello Ave. to tour one of the company’s buildings, some carrying signs calling for tenant rights. The basement of the building had black mold and a partially collapsed ceiling. There was visible water damage in some of the apartments.
Residents at that building reported not having heat, so the management company brought in space heaters. While that solution provided heat, one resident told Jersey City Together that his electric bill skyrocketed from roughly $78 a month to nearly $325 for one month.
Kaplan, when returning an email asking to speak about Jersey City residents’ living conditions, said the company has “many happy tenants and tenant satisfaction is our priority.”
“We’re actively addressing the current specific tenant concerns as they are brought to our attention, and are committed to resolving these expeditiously.”
City inspectors were at the Monticello Avenue building on Monday. Officials could not immediately comment on whether any violations were issued.
The owner of a Jersey City building where a rusted, rotting fire escape snapped beneath the feet of residents fleeing a fire Monday has been slapped with 48 fire code violations, Jersey City officials said.
The owner of 500 Garfield Ave., a management company in Clifton, was cited for failure to properly maintain fire escapes and for obstructing a means of egress due to a fire escape being blocked by a metal gate, Jersey City spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said.
The violations came to light after a 2-alarm fire at the four-story apartment building there at 5 a.m. Monday. Calls to the management company, 500 Garfield Avenue JC LLC, were not returned.
One third-floor resident said he fell through the steps and landed on the fire escape landing a floor below while fleeing the fire. Others said they had to hold onto the fire escape railings and do their best to slide down the fire escape using their feet minimally.
Firefighters responding to the 5:21 a.m. alarm found the fire in a first-floor apartment that spread to an adjacent apartment before being declared under control at 6:01 a.m.
The building owner was also cited for having multiple fire alarms that were either disabled or removed and for having a locked exit door, Morrill said.
Residents of the apartments involved in the fire not able to return due to fire damage, Jersey City pubic safety spokeswoman Carly Baldwin said at the scene that day.
Residents in eight additional apartments were also evacuated because of the lack of a second means of egress due to “the rotting fire escape,” Baldwin said.
SEEKONK (CBS) — Firefighters rushed to rescue the people and pets inside a multi-family home as a blaze ripped through it Tuesday morning.
The fire began around 9:40 a.m. in a three-story home on Hull Street.
Two people were inside at the time, but were able to escape the flames.
One told WBZ-TV’s Mike LaCrosse that he used a fire escape to get out safely.
“It was all pretty much just like a quick instinct, ‘I need to get out of here,’” said resident Malcolm Jones.
Fire officials said they rescued six dogs from the home, but unfortunately one cat died.
None of the residents or responding firefighters were hurt, but 4-6 people were displaced. The Red Cross was assisting them.
Crews were still on the scene at noon to put out hot spots.
The cause of the fire was not yet known.
Updated: 11:59 AM EDT Mar 27, 2017
Firefighters rescued at least seven people after a blaze erupted on the top floor of a three-story residential building in West Oakland, California sending towering flames and heavy smoke into the dawn sky.
Fire officials said at least one person was feared dead inside the building that houses a drug rehabilitation center.
Battalion Chief Eric Logan of the Oakland Fire Department said firefighters who entered the structure thought they saw a body on the third floor, but couldn’t reach the person before flames and heavy smoke caused them to pull out of the building.
“When firefighters first went in, they saw what might have looked like a body on the third floor, but the flames were so intense they had to retreat,” Logan said. “We have to get more of this fire out to see.”
About 8 a.m., Logan said the blaze was contained to the building or origin.
“It’s an old building,” he said. “We have to get in to fight the fire.”
The fire broke out just before 6 a.m. at the building off Interstate 980.
Logan said firefighters used ladder trucks to rescued seven people. Three people were treated for smoke inhalation and were in critical condition, he said.
He said 50 to 60 people lived in the building.
Fantazhia LaTonda, 44, one of the residents evacuated, was sitting nearly a block away from the fire huddled under blankets with her boyfriend, watching her home go up in flames.
She had just moved into the building two weeks ago.
She said the first and second floors house a drug rehab center. LaTonda lives in an apartment on the third floor, next door to where she said the fire started.
“I woke up to get a snack and I went to lay back down and I looked out the window and I saw sparks and I kept hearing crackling,” she said.
In a panic, she and her boyfriend attempted to open the door of their room but she said the door handles were too hot to touch. They opened the curtains of their window and began waving outside to get the attention of the firefighters.
“I was scared. I thought I was going to die,” LaTonda said.
The firefighters grabbed them through the window and pulled them onto the fire escape, she said.
She said, everything she owns is gone and now she and her boyfriend have to start from scratch.
“I was worried we weren’t going to get out. Just burning. That’s not the way I want to die. Burning,” she said.
Other residents of the building, joined by family members, were gathered outside an a nearby AutoZone store.
Covered in Red Cross blankets, many people stood watching the building burn with tears in their eyes.
Some shrieked as news came out of the unconfirmed fatality.
Children were clinging to their parents, with no shoes after escaping just in the nick of the time.
Tensions were high as the police attempted to tally the number of people who made it out alive. But many stood solemnly, blank looks on their faces, as they stared at the building.
ELIZABETH, NJ – A fire in a six-story multiple dwelling on the 300 block of Elmora Avenue quickly progressed from a two-alarm to a three-alarm fire with one firefighter injured.
At one point, fire was visible and found in the walls before it was extinguished. Occupants were seen on the fire escape directly beneath the fire apartment.
Primary searches were completed and cleared. EMS personnel treated the injured firefighter at the scene. Elizabeth firefighters were assisted with units from Roselle Park, Roselle, Linden, and Union County Hazmat.
The fire ignited in a first-floor bedroom at 23 Dales Ave. at 9:30 a.m., city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said.
A man in the apartment where the fire started ran from the building but left the unit’s door open. Fire and smoke began filling the hallways, trapping residents on the second and third floors, she said.
Upper-floor residents used a fire escape to get out of the three-story building. The fire escape, however, was connected to the room where the fire began, making it difficult for residents to reach the ground, Morrill said.
One woman at the scene said her entire family, including at least three children, were helped by firefighters on the fire escape.
At least two apartments were damaged. The American Red Cross was assisting an adult and five children with shelter. It’s unclear when other residents will be allowed to return to home.
No one was injured in the fire, although eight people were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, Morrill said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.