London fire brings safety concerns for high-rise apartments in Charlotte

High-rise living is on the rise in Charlotte. However, it presents a challenge for firefighters who would have to attack a blaze that is beyond their ladder's reach.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A towering inferno engulfed a London high-rise apartment building Tuesday night, killing 12 and injuring dozens more.

"It's devastating, that's incredibly unfortunate," said Callie Strother, a resident of the Skyhouse in uptown.

High-rise living is on the rise in Charlotte. However, it presents a challenge for firefighters who would have to attack a blaze that is beyond their ladder's reach.

"We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort to make sure those guys are equipped and trained to handle those situations," said Division Chief Kent Davis.

In London, there were no central fire alarms and the fire spread quickly with flames shooting from the building. CFD's Marshall Jonathan Leonard says this situation would likely not be an issue in Charlotte.

"It wouldn't happen happen here, we are a little more modern city, that building was built in 1974 and lacks the fire protection systems that all of our current buildings have," said Leonard.

Charlotte has 183 high-rise buildings, which is generally considered anything over 75 feet or seven stories. Twenty-three of those buildings to not have sprinkler systems. Most of those are on the campus of UNCC and out of CFD's jurisdiction.

"The big thing is fire sprinkler systems, fire sprinkler systems typically contain the fire to the room or origin especially in a residential setting," Leonard explained.

Even for those that are not sprinkled, centralized alarms, annual inspections and fire drills are standard. High-rise buildings are required to have evacuation plans.

Tenants usually receive this information with their leases. Many buildings also have automatic doors that shut to minimize the spread of the fire.

"All of our high-rises have voice evacuation systems so it will give you directions to do if you hear the alarm it is going to tell you to evacuate the building," Leonard said.

"I do feel comfortable in the buildings that we live in knowing that the regulations are up to date and they follow what they need to to keep us safe," said Strother.

But as the city grows, so do concerns from about new constructions of pedestal style building made up mostly of wood.

"That is a big concern operationally, from an operations viewpoint they are pushing the envelope is what it boils down to," said Chief Davis.

There are several of these buildings under construction in Uptown and the South End. The buildings have a concrete structure on the lower floors that often house a garage or retail, but the upper floors are apartments made mostly of wood.

A similar building went up in flames in Raleigh in March in the city's biggest fire since Prohibition. It isn't London firefighters are worried about, they attacking a fire with something that burns as easily as wood.

"Not necessarily all that wood, but all that wood at the height they are putting it at," said Davis. "Right now it's so new, it's kind of tough sometimes to get in front of it."

Davis said the CFD has been working with developers of pedestal style buildings to make sure they are meeting all the fire codes.

© 2017 WCNC.COM


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