TV-6 Investigates: High Rise Fire Sprinklers - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

TV-6 Investigates: High Rise Fire Sprinklers

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When you move into a new apartment, home, or condo, you expect the building to be safe, no matter when it was built.

That's why cities and states have building codes.

15 years ago, one of those codes changed for high rise buildings in Illinois.

For the first time, fire sprinklers were required in all high rises.

TV-6 Investigates has found Quad City high rises that don't meet the requirement, putting their residents at risk.

Three high rises in the Illinois Quad Cities do not have fire sprinklers.

Two in Moline and one in East Moline.

East Moline's Summit Ridge tower was cited for the violation when the rule changed 15 years ago.

No sprinklers have been installed.

As TV-6 Investigates found, the issue revolves around money.

Eight years ago, flames and smoke poured out of the eighth floor of the Blackhawk hotel.

The fire was caused by two people making meth in one of the rooms.

The video provides a stark reminder of how dangerous high rise fires can be.

Especially when like the Blackhawk at the time, there are no sprinklers to douse the flames.

Across the river in Illinois, another fire chief cringed at the sight, knowing one of his high rises runs the same risk even though state law mandated sprinklers years before.

"It's not the fire it's the smoke," says East Moline Fire Chief Rob DeFrance.

He has tried for years to get the Summit Ridge condo board to install fire sprinklers in its high rise. It's the last high rise under his watch that doesn't have a sprinkler system.

"We've been working through the years to try to figure out a solution to it," says DeFrance.

He says without a sprinkler system, a fire can spread toxic smoke throughout the building. He worries people may not be able to get out in case of fire.

"Some of the designs, they have the stair cases in the middle, don't exit to the outside, makes the building inherently, potentially dangerous," says DeFrance.

A state fire marshal inspector reached the same conclusion in 2012. The inspector wrote a ticket to the condo board for not having sprinklers, but still, no sprinklers have been installed as the board negotiates with the fire marshal's office.

"The board understands the issues, they're open and I think looking for ways to try and do it, I think it's a huge financial expense for them, to bring the building up to code," says DeFrance.

The Summit Ridge condo board president declined several interview requests with TV-6 because of those negotiations with the state fire marshal. The president did tell TV-6 the last sprinkler installation estimate the board received. $250,000.

"In an ideal world you can be as safe as you want to be, but in a practical matter you can only be as safe as you can afford to be," says Mike Kim.

He sits on the Association of Condominium, Townhouse, and Homeowners Association board. It's an Illinois group dedicated to advancing the rights of those types of properties. Kim says the cost keeps many high rise owners from installing fire sprinklers. Two other high rises in Moline also lack fire sprinklers. A commercial building in downtown and the Hillside Heights tower right behind the fire station. TV-6 archives show it has caught fire twice before.

"Condominium properties that need to make such modifications most likely need to levy substantial assessments on their howe owners to pay for the retrofit," says Kim.

He's heard of prices between $15,000 and $50,000 per unit in a high rise to install sprinklers. Kim says those prices are often out of reach.

"Are you going to destroy the village in order to save it," says Kim.

DeFrance says the East Moline high rise's condo board has made slow progress on other safety issues over the years. It just installed a special elevator system and submitted plans for a fire alarm system to his office. He says those updates make the building more fire safe, but he's still pushing for sprinklers unless the Illinois Fire Marshal says otherwise.

 

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