Public housing fires raise safety concerns

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Inspectors from the State Fire Marshal’s office were in townFriday to see to it the city’s public housing projects are adheringto fire codes.

After two fires were set in the same unoccupied Carver Heightsapartment three days apart recently, city safety officials voicedconcerns that perhaps stronger security measures should betaken.

“These might just be people getting out of the outside and undera roof,” said Fire Inspector Andre Spiller. “Some of the apartmentsmight have old furniture and stuff and they’re going in there andsleeping on the couches and they might be smoking a cigarette andit catches fire and they see it and they run out. There arenumerous things that could be going on.”

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Police Chief Pap Henderson took a little harder stand on it.

“If they’re going into those apartments, they’re up to no good,”he said.

Brookhaven Housing Authority Director Mike Proffitt said thehousing authority is working on plans to upgrade safety not only toprotect the tenants, but also to keep the trespassers out.

“We’re trying to make sure whoever set these fires can’t do itagain,” he said. “We’re boarding up the vacant units, getting allthe furniture and clothes and stuff out and making sureeverything’s secure.”

Friday’s visit from two state officials lasted most of the day,according to Spiller, and they visited both occupied and unoccupieddwellings to see what changes and upgrades need to be made formaximum safety in the city’s housing developments.

“We’re on a visit to see how everyone’s doing, checking forpotential safety upgrades,” said Assistant Chief Deputy State FireMarshal Eugene Humphreys. “Mike Proffitt says plans are in theworks for some new safety measures.”

Medgar Gibbs, also of the State Fire Marshal’s office, saidbased upon a preliminary investigative report submitted by Spillerand other criteria, the two were looking to see what needs to bedone to bring the city dwellings up to code.

“Basically we’re going through looking at the buildings andtalking about renovations to see what can be improved,” he said.”It’s just for the betterment of the people and the community.”

Some immediate improvements they would suggest, he said, wouldbe fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors in everyapartment.

“In some of the upstairs apartments there is only one way to getout, so we’ve talked about escape ladders on some of the secondfloor apartments, too,” Spiller said.

Proffitt said the renovation work would span about two years,and would involve, among other things, the smoke alarms and fireextinguishers in the dwellings. The Housing Authority projectsspending $211,100 to make the required changes.

“We’re working on that now,” he said. “We’re on a budget wherewe’re combining funds. Part of the money is coming from a prioryear and from a capital fund, and we try to combine it to wherewe’ll be able to get the most work done for best price. We justwant to maximize the value of our investment.”

The housing authority’s proposed scope of work includes $80,000worth of renovations for the 100 units at Carver Heights, toinclude work on medicine cabinets, general sod and ground work, newfire extinguishers, and new smoke detectors. Oakview’s 34 unitswill see $24,600 worth of work on medicine cabinets, ground and sodwork, sidewalk removal, and new fire extinguishers and smokedetectors.

Cloverdale’s 86 units will see the most extensive renovationswith $106,500 to be spent on sod and groundwork, medicine cabinets,securing existing windows, new sidewalks, repairing a burned-outfive-bedroom unit, and installing new smoke detectors and fireextinguishers.

As for the people illegally entering the dwellings, the housingauthority also has two police officers who patrol the complexes.Proffitt said trespassers will be prosecuted when they’recaught.

“We always press charges when we catch someone,” he said lastweek. “They’re probably breaking a window, because right now allyou have to do is break a window and you can reach in there and getin.”

Henderson said he was happy to enforce the law on thetrespassers.

“None of these people are homeless,” he said. “These are peoplewho want to do illegal activity out of the eyesight of lawenforcement.”