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Damaged center short on alarms

Sat., Dec. 4, 2004

A fire last month at the Spokane Juvenile Justice Center may have burned undetected for as long as an hour because the portion of the building where the blaze occurred does not have smoke alarms or detectors.

The Nov. 21 fire caused between $100,000 and $200,000 in damage to a second-floor wing used by juvenile probation officers, said Leon Long, Spokane County’s risk manager. The office where it originated was gutted; about 10 other rooms received heavy smoke damage.

The advancement of the fire was slowed because the supply of oxygen to the office where it started was low, said Capt. Mike Zambryski, a Spokane Fire Department investigator. That’s because the door to the room was closed and only a small open window above the door allowed new air into the room.

“They said if he hadn’t had the door closed, we might have lost this building,” said Marie Studebaker, Spokane County juvenile detention manager. “We were actually quite lucky.”

The fire was reported about 8:30 p.m. by a juvenile detention employee who smelled smoke on his way to the center’s library. Studebaker said that the juvenile detention portion of the building has smoke detectors, but smoke had not traveled that far. About 35 inmates in the juvenile jail were evacuated outside and then housed for a while in the gym after firefighters gave the OK.

“They were very, very well behaved during this incident,” Studebaker said.

Since the fire, more than a dozen employees of the probation department have been crammed into other parts of the building. Some might be displaced for months, said Mark Lewis, probation manager of juvenile court.

The wing will need new ceiling tiles, carpeting, computers, wallpaper, furniture, light fixtures and other office equipment, Long said. An insurance policy will pick up all but a $25,000 deductible.

Zambryski said the cause of the fire likely will remain undetermined. It started where a computer and fan were located and possibly turned on. Damage to the office indicates that the blaze may have burned for an hour, Zambryski said.

Lewis said he and his co-workers were not aware of the lack of smoke detectors. The hallways have fire alarms that must be pulled by hand.

The portion of the center where the fire occurred was built in 1940. Long said the wing likely didn’t have smoke detectors because it was built to the standards of the time. The remodel will include a smoke alarm system for the wing, and the county is considering outfitting other parts of the building that also don’t have detectors, Long said.

Meanwhile, juvenile court cases continue, and probation officers are doing their best to make due, Lewis said.

“People have really rallied to be helpful to others,” Lewis said. “It hasn’t grounded things to a halt. We’re still functioning here.”


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