The world is a tough place. There are times when you just need to grit your teeth, dig in and face the heat. Waking at 12:52 a.m. as a fire consumes your apartment building is not such a time. The residents of the Oppenheimer Properties-owned apartment building on South State Street and Stimson faced such a situation early Monday morning. Owing to the lack of fire escapes and functioning fire alarms, many students had no choice but to jump from the third floor to escape the inferno. Unless the city acts quickly to beef up its fire safety code and force landlords to abide by it, more students could find themselves in equally impossible and possibly more tragic situations.
After a fire last September, which occurred in a student house without a fire escape or operational fire alarms, this page called on the city to force landlords to comply with current fire codes and institute tougher ones if necessary. This fire reinforces the immediate need for tougher fire safety standards. Had the city’s fire code compelled Oppenheimer Properties to install a fire escape in the now-charred building, the situation would have turned out better – no student would have been rushed to the emergency room with a broken leg suffered in the three-story plunge.
The city’s actions since the fire in September have been deplorable. Instead of taking steps to force lazy, penny-pinching landlords to install fire escapes and functioning fire alarms, the city has used the fire-safety issue to fuel its vendetta against porch couches. Indeed, preliminary reports from fire investigators indicate that a powerstrip, not a couch, started the apartment inferno. Couches do not spontaneously combust and are no more likely to ignite than the thousands of other objects found in or around a typical student house. The city must stop using these tragic fires as political leverage in its quest to push through anti-student legislation.
Regardless of safety concerns, past events have shown that landlords will only act if they are compelled. When compelled, however, they will act quickly: When the city asked landlords to fix residential sidewalks, they took action within weeks. Thus, the burden of fire safety is on the city to recognize the problem for what it is – inadequate fire codes, not porch couches – and take steps to correct it. The city must not only actively make sure all landlords comply with current codes, but also strengthen codes to ensure no living space is left without viable exits and sufficient fire detectors.
Flammable objects are all over the place; the city cannot ban them all, and fires are inevitable. It is necessary, therefore, to ensure that each house and rental property has dependable fire escapes and fire alarms to allow a safe and quick escape. The city and landlords would do well to learn their lessons now before a more grievous tragedy occurs. It would be sad if it took the death of a student to bring about such common-sense changes.