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Fire Safety Officials Look for Answers After Two Tragic Fires


By Dave Lubach Fire Safety/Protection
fire stop door

Two tragic fires in federally subsidized apartment buildings this month have raised questions about older buildings and updated fire codes. 

The Washington Post explored the topic in a recent article looking at the two fires that are considered among the deadliest residential fires in the country in decades. A January 5 fire in a century-old Philadelphia rowhouse killed 12 people. Tragedy struck again in New York on January 9, when at least 17 people perished in a 19-story building that was nearly 50 years old. Sixteen of the victims in the fires were children.  

The Post reported that the Philadelphia fire began when a child set fire to a Christmas tree, and later found that six smoke alarms were either inoperable or disabled. The New York fire was caused by a malfunctioning space heater. Two self-closing doors failed to shut when alarms went off, allowing smoke to spread throughout the building. 

One of the challenges for city officials across the country is to update older buildings that aren’t subject to revised fire codes. 

As smoke alarms have helped decrease the number of deaths in residential fires, fire safety experts call for retrofitting sprinklers into more buildings, a costly change that builders resist, according to the article.   

The Post reported that since 1992, federal law requires that new multifamily public housing buildings install sprinklers. But that law does not account for 570,000 individual housing units across the country built prior that are not subject to that law. 

Housing advocates are hoping the Build Back Better Act can help modernize public housing, but that funding remains uncertain.  

Dave Lubach is managing editor of the Facility Market

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