Over the years I’ve had many people ask me, “If I’m the last person to work on this door, could I be held responsible for existing code problems with the opening?” For example, if a locksmith is hired to replace a door closer and notices that the door has a double-cylinder deadbolt, does it become the locksmith’s problem even though he hasn’t touched the lock? I wouldn’t dare attempt to answer this question. I just don’t know what a court would decide if the deadbolt ever prevented egress and resulted in injuries or fatalities.

What I do know is that we are ALL responsible for doing our best to ensure the safety of the buildings we enter. Although my kids have sometimes lamented that we won’t be allowed back in a particular hotel or restaurant because of my attention to the code issues, I can’t ignore the problems. If you work in the door and hardware industry or if you’ve been reading this website for a while, you know the rules. Egress doors have to unlatch with one operation. Fire doors can’t be blocked open. And so on.

daily-mail-tweetSome people may enter a building without instinctively scanning for the exits and confirming that they are not locked or blocked, but I think this is common practice for those of us who work in the industry or are involved with life safety. The question then becomes…what do you do/say when you see a problem? Don’t just send me a photo (although I love to receive them) – the problems need to be addressed.

According to the news reports, many people shared concerns with the authorities about the warehouse in Oakland where at least 36 people died in a fire last Friday. An investigation had been opened, but unfortunately the fire occurred before the problems could be addressed. The building had been modified without attention to the code requirements – the “before” photos and descriptions from officials show obvious problems with egress routes.

This building is not an isolated situation. There are many more – and they are tragedies waiting to happen. It may seem like an insurmountable problem, but “lack of resources” probably won’t hold up in court. Who is liable?  That will be determined over the next months or probably even years.  But it’s time to get serious about addressing the issues, and we all play a part in that. If you see something, say something. Do something. Lives really do depend on it.


News coverage of the Oakland fire:

Outrageous: ‘Before’ pictures from Oakland show what a fire trap looks like – STATter911

“Before” pictures from inside the artist conclave in a converted Oakland, California warehouse where as many as 40 people died in a fire late last (Friday) night provide important evidence into why this tragedy occurred. The images from “Ghost Ship” look like they could be on an exam for would-be fire marshals where the students have to identify all the hazards they see.

Run-down Oakland warehouse was a ‘death trap,’ former tenant says; at least 36 dead – Chicago Tribune

One doorway was blocked, Mack said, because it led to the property of a neighbor who’d been in a dispute with the operators, whom she and other former tenants and friends identified as 46-year-old Derick Ion and his 40-year-old wife, Micah Allison.

‘People want answers’: Criminal probe of Oakland fire launched as death toll hits 36 – Los Angeles Times

Officials have said the warehouse had been the subject of a city code enforcement investigation at the time of the fire due to complaints about health and safety issues. Some former residents described it as a cluttered “death trap” lacking fire sprinklers.

Oakland official says 200 warehouse structures have code violations – ABC7 News

Gallo has lived on these streets all his life and he says Oakland needs to hold landlords more accountable. “They know what the rules are, but in Oakland we have an attitude of catch me if you can,” he said.  Gallo says there may be 200 other warehouse-type buildings in Oakland that aren’t up to code, many housing marijuana growing or manufacturing operations.

Who could be held criminally liable for the Oakland fire? – Los Angeles Times

To build a case, prosecutors would have to show that building operators were on notice about any potential code violations, building flaws or other legal issues, Daly said.  Shapiro said those involved could also face a reckless fire charge, a misdemeanor count that requires prosecutors to show a defendant was aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk and ignored it.

Oakland Fire:  City missed signs of looming disaster at Ghost Ship – The Mercury News

A retired Contra Costa firefighter said he was outraged that the city did not act to shut down the cooperative over the obvious code violations.  “Any professional firefighter, regardless of rank, would have recognized the deadly threat that this building represented and did everything possible to shut it down,” John Stiglich wrote in an email.  Fire companies are responsible for knowing the hazards that exist in their own areas, Stiglich wrote: “Something should have come from this level and proceeded without delay.”

Image:  Daily Mail US

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