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March 4, 2014

High-rise fatality illustrates concerns

A fire last week at a public housing high-rise apartment building in Sullivan killed one person and left 18 others injured. A fire like that is one that worries Washington Fire Chief Dave Rhoads. “The building in Sullivan is very similar to the tower we have in Washington,” he said. “Theirs was seven stories high. The one here is nine stories tall.”

The similarities between the two buildings go beyond size. Sunrise Towers is a public housing facility that has mostly senior citizens and disabled residents. The Washington Towers also have those same types of people.

“Before 2000, when we bought our tower truck we didn’t have anything big enough to get to the upper floors,” said Rhoads. “Our current truck is 75-feet tall. It can reach to the seventh floor. In case of an emergency, we could bring people from the top two floors down and then take them out off of a balcony on the south side and down.”

In any community there are areas that create a worry for local fire fighters. For years one of those concerns was the long vacant Main Street Hotel that burned a few years ago. The tower is another one.

“There are 140 people living in that building,” said Rhoads. “That’s the highest concentration of people that we have anywhere in the county. We give it a lot of consideration. We pre-plan on how we would deal with a fire there. We also do training over there. Anything we can do to minimize any risk we try to do it.”

The tower was built in 1969 and is primarily constructed of concrete and brick. That does not mean that it is totally fire proof. “The building itself won’t burn,” said Rhoades, “but the contents can. I understand that is what happened in Sullivan. The people who were killed and injured there had smoke inhalation. If something would happen here, smoke would be the big worry.”

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