Berwyn Fire Department’s Fire Sprinkler Advocacy Pays Off in Apartment Building Fire

By Fire Chief Denis O’Halloran and Battalion Chief Mario Manfredini, Berwyn Fire Department

A cooperative effort between departments in Berwyn recently kept our residents safe, avoiding a total loss for a property owner and keeping a property on our tax rolls. As a preface to this story, Berwyn does NOT have any locally adopted fire sprinkler code.

The unsprinklered apartment fire in 2011.

The unsprinklered apartment building fire in 2011.

On April 23, 2011, a fire broke out in an unoccupied second-floor apartment of a three-story, 14-unit residential apartment building valued at over $1,000,000. It quickly spread to the roof and extended to other apartments. The building was not sprinklered, nor had any type of fire alarm system.

The property went into foreclosure and sat vacant and boarded up for over two years; not only did the property become an eyesore for the community, but also there were safety concerns and reports of illegal activities taking place on the site. Due to the foreclosure and legal issues with the previous owner and the bank, the city was not allowed to demolish the property.

The apartment building rehabbed with fire sprinklers in early 2014.

The apartment building rehabbed with fire sprinklers in early 2014.

Eventually, the property was purchased and rehabbed by a developer for $100,000. It was not a complete tear-down as the Berwyn Fire Department requested, otherwise we could have used the adopted NFPA 101: Life Safety Code to require fire sprinklers. Due to the amount of damage and dollar loss from the fire in 2011, the fire department championed the need for fire sprinklers through education and the building department agreed to require the developer to protect the entire building with fire sprinklers. The property was completed in early 2014 and was quickly occupied with renters.

The cabinets only experienced minor smoke damage before fire sprinklers controlled the fire in 2014.

The cabinets only experienced minor smoke damage before fire sprinklers controlled the fire in 2014.

On September 15, 2014, the fire department responded to a full fire alarm at the property. Upon arrival, a water-flow-indicating strobe light was active. Apparently, the tenant of the apartment was heating oil in a wok on one burner of a stovetop and boiling vegetables in a pot next to it on another burner and caused a fire while she was in the shower. The rest is history!

If we had not required the fire sprinklers to be installed in the building, we are sure the loss would’ve been much greater, especially due to the tenant being in the shower and unaware of what was transpiring in the kitchen.

There was minimal damage to the cabinets and no great water damage to the apartment or other units. The building is currently valued at $1,400,000 and the recent loss was under $2,000 in total. We believe that the installation of the fire sprinklers have paid for themselves.

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