London high-rise fire raises concern in Lowcountry

Smoke and flames rise from building on fire in London, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Firefighters are battling a massive fire in an apartment high-rise in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. – At least 12 people are dead and 74 hurt while 18 of those have critical injuries from the massive blaze in a 24-story London Tower Tuesday night. Something like that could easily happen here at home.

Hundreds of firefighters working tirelessly since then — to extinguish the fire — and rescue or recover those stuck inside.

This high rise fire is actually similar to one that happened in Hilton Head back in January. Firefighters were able to control it, but fire officials said there are ways it could’ve been prevented.

“Just down the road in Hilton Head they had an apartment complex fire and the Hilton Head firefighters made a dramatic rescue and recued and elderly man from that fire,” Daniel Byrne, with the Burton Fire Department, said. “The building didn’t have a sprinkler system.”

Fire officials said from the looks of the fire in London that building may not have had a sprinkler system or smoke alarms.

“In a lot of the news reports that are coming out that residents didn’t know there was a fire until they heard people calling for help. Which, indicates there’s no fire alarm system and obviously the way the fire burned from approximately the third floor all the way up definitely indicates that either there was no sprinkler system in the building or the sprinkler system wasn’t operating properly,” Byrne said.

And survivors can confirm it.

“I took my daughter and … I just ran to the stairs,” one witness who experienced the fire said. “As soon as I ran out, I saw already the fire holding one side. And inside we didn’t know what’s going on, because nothing came inside. No alarm, no water, nothing, you know? Like it was very shocking.”

However, here in the states we have codes in place in some jurisdictions to ensure buildings of this stature have the appropriate protection.

“Sprinkler systems are in the code,” Byrne said. “It’s up to local jurisdictions and or the states to choose whether to adopt that portion of the code or not. Here in South Carolina they have elected not to adopt that portion of the code that mandates sprinklers in certain occupancies.”

Residents in that tower tried preventing something like this from happening….

“I raised concerns about other safety concerns with the director of regeneration and they took no notice,” David Collins, a former chairman of the residents association, said. “We have 90% of residents at the end of 2015 sign a petition to say 90% residents wanted an investigation.”

Fire officials said if you have a problem in your building you should take those precautions to guarantee your safety.

“Make sure that your building or occupancy, whether it’s a single story, multi residential story, make sure it has fire alarm systems that fire alarm systems are checked,” Byrne said. “Even if the building systems are inoperable you can put in a smoke detector yourself.”

Fire officials said a deadly fire in a building with more than three floors is a very real possibility in our communities. They added to call your local fire department for advice if you notice anything wrong.

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