Apartment Firewalls, Sprinklers Can Save Lives

Thursday, March 12th 2009, 5:48 pm
By: News On 6

By Tara Vreeland, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- For the second time this week, firefighters rushed to Royal Arms Apartments on Thursday.

They think a crack in the wall allowed some embers to get through and after two days of smoldering, they burst into flames.

Firefighters kept the fire from spreading beyond the second floor, but it destroyed four more apartments.

The fire may make apartment dwellers wonder how fire-safe their complex is.

"If we don't get a handle on these meth labs, it's just going to continue to get worse," said Ron Fegaly, assistant fire marshal.

The first fire was caused by a meth lab, and the second one was an accident. A part of the building's construction meant to protect against fires helped cause it.

"This is the firewall that caused the problem with the second fire," Fegaly said. "Because there was a hole in it and it allowed the heat to get through and to ignite the structural supports on the other side."

Older apartments typically have fire walls. As of 2000, newer apartments built in Oklahoma are required to have sprinkler systems and any building with more than 16 units must have firewalls.

"Fire sprinklers are an active fire protection, which will put the fire out prior to the fire department coming," Fegaly said. "The firewall is considered passive fire protection. It keeps the fire from extending too far. It puts it in check."

Firewalls like this one are meant to last 30 minutes to four hours. This one was supposed to hold up for two hours, but it was defective.

"In this case, it was hidden completely by construction," Fegaly said. "We couldn't see it."

Sprinkler systems are requested in older apartments, but they can't be required unless the building is being renovated or remodeled.

"It is an expensive upgrade," Fegaly said. "And in today's economy, it's a difficult thing for a lot of these property owners to do, and it's a lot to ask of those property owners."

But sprinklers could mean the difference between life or death in an apartment fire.

"Had we had fire sprinkler protection in these units, we would not have had the injuries or the death that occurred here," Fegaly said. "In this city, we've never lost a life in a properly sprinkled building."

Fegaly said you should always ask apartment management about firewalls and sprinkler systems before you rent.