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Enforcement ‘Falls Through The Cracks’ No One Cited Otis For Violations Of Smoke Detector Requirements

Spokane fire officials say a downtown blaze points out a serious gap in the state’s efforts to require smoke detectors in all apartment buildings.

Friday’s fire at the Otis Hotel started when a resident’s kitchen hot plate caught fire in a fifth-floor room, setting off a heat detector.

Three people were injured in the blaze, which remains under investigation. One of the victims, 78-year-old Charles Williams, died Tuesday afternoon at Deaconess Medical Center, officials said.

Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams said smoke alarms should have been installed in all 174 rooms of the five-story hotel at 110 S. Madison.

Smoke alarms might have alerted residents sooner than a heat detector, Williams said. Heat detectors respond more slowly in many cases because they don’t sound alarms until temperatures reach 135 degrees.

The Otis Hotel does have an alarm system with smoke detectors. But those detectors are located only in corridors.

Failing to have functioning smoke detectors in every room violates the state’s landlord-tenant law, Williams said.

But when apartments and hotel rooms lack the devices, fire departments can only recommend installation - they can’t enforce the law.

“It’s not our authority. It’s not the police’s job either,” Williams said. “It’s fallen through the cracks” since the state fire marshal’s office was disbanded three years ago, he added.

Spokane firefighters responded three times in December and January to false alarms at the Otis Hotel. In two instances, they noted problems with sound alarms in individual rooms. The third time, they asked managers to check out one of the room’s heat detectors.

Minor system maintenance was conducted each time, said Vin Monaco, manager of Monaco Enterprises in the Valley, which installed the hotel’s current system.

The Otis uses a central alarm box wired to heat detectors in every room. The alarm box also is connected to pull switches on each floor, plus the corridor-mounted smoke detectors.

That system was installed in 1993 when the hotel’s owners had to make several changes to conform to fire codes. Those changes included adding smoke detectors in the hallways.

Fire officials stopped short of asking for smoke detectors in every room.

The Otis’ alarm system does not include a central reporting device that is now standard in most nursing homes, hospitals and hotels.

Central reporting systems automatically send an alarm call to the fire department, reducing the time in which units can respond. No one needs to dial 911, as Otis Hotel staff had to do when the fire broke out last week.

Many residential buildings lack a central reporting system because they were built before the change was made in the fire code.

“Essentially, they’re grandfathered and the law can’t make them change,” said Monaco.

Some old apartments, however, have made the switch to central reporting. The New Madison Apartments, across from the Otis, added that type of system - along with automatic sprinklers - three years ago, said maintenance manager Larry Steinbaugh.

“It was voluntary on our part. It was something the Monaco people recommended after the fire we had here three years ago,” Steinbaugh said.

, DataTimes