October is Fire Safety Month.
It is also the upcoming anniversary of the deadly November 1, 2014, Noyes Street fire that killed 6 people. The landlord of the property at the time was found ‘not guilty’ of manslaughter, but found ‘guilty’ for misdemeanor fire code violations and served three months in jail. Since then, the city of Portland has taken a number of steps to try and bolster inspection efforts, including the creation of the Housing Safety Division under The Department of Permitting and Inspection.
We are also reminded of a landlord association meeting, one of the best we’ve ever attended, where, Kevin, a member, and landlord, shared a story of a major fire that occurred at their rental property building. The association members in attendance sat in silence, riveted by the details and feelings of “that could have been me.”
The story that was told was of a late-night incident where the landlords, fast asleep in their home, were awakened by a call to inform them that their 6-unit apartment building was on fire.
They could hear the sirens from miles away, and as they drove toward their rental property they could see the smoke rising into the air.
When they arrived, the Kassermans learned that everyone escaped the building safely, and the firefighters were able to combat the fire successfully because they had implemented all basic fire safety precautions. This was the primary lesson that Kevin wanted to share with fellow SMLA members – safety saves lives. Smoke alarms were properly located, installed, functional, and woke up the tenants. Newly-installed fire doors contained the fire long enough for the tenants to get out of the building. Clear halls enabled the tenants to exit, and the firefighters to enter the building safely without tripping over anything such as bikes or bags of returnables that could have been left in the hallways—simple, yet major hazards when a building is smoke-filled and impossible to navigate visually.
The other reminder for landlords and tenants was the value of Renter’s Insurance. Several of the Kassermans’ tenants had it, and several did not. Those who had insurance were able to stay in hotels paid for by insurance and had their belongings replaced quickly. Those who did not have to find places to sleep—perhaps families’ or friends’ couches or guest rooms, and they lost everything they had in their homes.
During the meeting, we were reminded that we make our buildings safe not because an inspector “makes” us do it, but because a fire could happen in any of our properties at any time, and it is the right thing to do—safety saves lives. While there is no way to guarantee our tenants’ safety, proper precautions taken in our buildings dramatically increase the chances that they are able to leave the building safely in the event of an unexpected fire. You could be the next Kevin. Will you be ready to get the call?
We hope so. You can read the General Guidance for Code Compliance of Existing Apartment Buildings. For additional resources, reach out to your local fire department.