Fatal Fire Spurs Four Cities to Adopt Detector Ordinances

Fatal Fire Spurs Four Cities to Adopt Detector Ordinances

Three members of a Kent, Wash., family died needlessly at about 2:45 a.m. January 1,1978, in an accidental fire in their fourth-floor apartment.

While fire fighters were extinguishing the fire, removing the bodies, and overhauling the scene, some of the 100 or so onlookers asked the question, “Why don’t these apartments have smoke detectors? They might have saved the lives of these people.”

The correct answer, which wasn’t very comforting, was, “Smoke detectors weren’t required by building or fire code when these apartments were built.”

The Green River Valley, between Auburn and Tukwila, is an area undergoing a transformation from an agricultural community to one of the nation’s newest and most active commercial industrial centers. With the increase in population, the Green River Valley cities of Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila collectively have 19,000 to 20,000 apartment and other rental units. Fires of a fatal nature are not every-day occurrences.

Something is done

So when the first newspaper headline of 1978 read, “Three Die in Valley Apartment Blaze,” public interest mounted. Fire prevention officials in the four valley cities also started asking, “Why can’t we do something about this?”

We found that we could do something. Less than one month after the fatal fire, fire marshals from the four cities drafted a rough retroactive smoke detector ordinance for all rental units. Each fire marshal, armed with the basic concepts, drafted a proposed ordinance for his jurisdiction.

By June 1978, just six months after the fatal fire, all four cities had adopted ordinances covering smoke detectors. Though the individual ordinances varied slightly, each for all practical purposes remained the same.

Business buildings included

Tukwila also required all new commercial and industrial buildings to have a supervised smoke detector system unless they were protected by an automatic sprinkler system. All existing unsprinklered commercial or industrial buildings have to be equipped with a supervised smoke detector system or with an automatic sprinklers when sold.

The quick passage of t hese ordinances is an example of what a cooperative effort in the fire service can achieve. The fire prevention officials in the four cities have for some time shared various ideas, problems, experiences, interpretations and plans. This effort has resulted in efficient and effective fire prevention programs throughout the Green River Valley.

It might be noted that from the day the idea for the smoke detector ordinance was suggested to the present time, very little if any opposition has arisen. This was probably due in a large part to informational public meetings and positive press coverage.

Smoke detector is checked by Tukwila Fire Fighter Steve Wheeler.
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