Mayor to move up plans for sprinklers in high-rise

March 18, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley is moving up plans to place a $1.5 million sprinkler system in a city-owned high-rise apartment building after a second fatal fire there in two months that traumatized some residents.

The fires -- one Jan. 16 and the other Friday -- occurred at 727 Druid Park Lake Drive, one of two connected high-rises at Lakeview Towers across from Druid Lake. Three people died in the two fires.

In a 90-minute meeting with about 100 residents, O'Malley also promised to replace often-broken elevators and wire smoke alarms to automatically trigger a monitoring service that could alert the Fire Department sooner should another blaze occur.

"We're here to give you folks some reason to hope and offer a little bit of comfort," said O'Malley, in announcing the $3.2 million emergency changes.

But some residents said the city's response is too late.

"This should have happened after the first fire," said Ryan Martin, who was trapped in his wheelchair in the stairwell of the 12th floor during the first fire and hospitalized for 16 days with smoke inhalation. "It's a little bit late because each fire has taken a life unnecessarily."

Many residents asked O'Malley and city housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano to allow them to move into other city-owned, subsidized rentals or to help them find another place to live. The tower at 727 Druid Park Lake Drive has 160 units and is nearly full, and Graziano said there are fewer than 60 vacancies in the city's other properties.

"It's just not physically possible to move everyone," Graziano said.

O'Malley and Graziano were joined by Fire Department officials, who tried to assure the residents that the steps being rushed into place would make their homes safer.

Because the tower at 727 Druid Park Lake Drive was built in 1970, before a code that requires sprinklers in each apartment took effect, it was exempted from the rules. The other tower at 717 Druid Park Lake Drive was built in 1980 and has sprinklers.

A sprinkler system might have saved lives in the two fires, fire officials have said.

O'Malley said the city has spent $8 million in recent years adding sprinklers to city buildings that were exempted from the code. The building at 727 Druid Park Lake Drive was slated to get sprinklers in 2005.

Because of the second fire, O'Malley said he will make $1.5 million available to do the work this year. The sprinklers should be in by Christmas, said Lyle Schumann, deputy executive director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

O'Malley said the money isn't allocated but that he would take funds from something else -- probably the scattered-site housing rehabilitation program -- to pay for the sprinklers.

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