Building in Wednesday fire lacks alarm "system"

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - There's new information on a Richmond fire that had many people wondering why they almost didn't know about it.

Wednesday evening, firefighters were called to the top floor of the Colonial Reserve Apartments on W. Franklin Street for an accidental kitchen fire. Once the building was evacuated, residents complained they were in danger, because they never heard an alarm.

We learned today it's not that the alarm didn't work. It's that a building-wide alarm doesn't exist in the first place.

Imagine there's a fire burning above your apartment, and you found out only because somebody sent you a text message.

"I think, later, it's really going to hit me, Wow, I didn't even know there was a fire right above my floor!" said Evan Kirschner.

Kirschner and others who were evacuated Wednesday wanted to know why they never heard an alarm. It turns out, the apartments do have working smoke detectors, but none of them are linked. So if something's burning on the 17th floor, you might not know it in the lobby.

"If this fire happened at 6 a.m. or 4 a.m. most of the residents would've been home. And they probably would've slept through it," said Lt. Shawn Jones of the Richmond Fire Department.

The building, however, is not considered to be in violation. The Virginia Fire Safety Regulations say because it's an "older building" the lack of a centralized alarm is "acceptable" since the rule wasn't "in effect at the time" it was built.

The Uniform Building Code was adopted in 1973, but because the building was constructed in the 1960's fire officials say it is considered up to code.

The situation raises questions, though, about other multi-story buildings in Richmond. While it's unclear exactly how many also lack a centralized system, it's something firefighters will consider lobbying for at the Capitol.

"We may go in there and talk to those legislators and see if we can try to somehow put some legislation in there that requires buildings to now have sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems," Jones said.

The building's owner said that while there is no building-wide alarm system, the property has undergone substantial capital improvements.

"The building is in compliance with code. Each individual unit has smoke detectors, each hallway has smoke detectors, each floor is equipped with fire extinguishers and the fire exits are well marked," said Jim Spahn of Colonial Properties Trust.

Current building codes require all newly constructed apartments to have centralized fire alarm and sprinkler systems.

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