San Francisco officials are considering a long list of steps to enhance fire safety in the city’s apartment buildings after three major fires that killed one person and displaced about 100 tenants and dozens of small businesses.
Those measures could include making it easier for tenants to report safety concerns, launching more stringent fire-safety inspections and issuing safety checklists for landlords.
Renewed concern about fire safety in the city’s apartment buildings was sparked by the biggest of last week’s blazes, which broke out in a three-story building at 22nd and Mission streets on Jan. 28. One person died and six others were hurt in the fire, and more than 50 tenants lost their homes.
Two other fires — one in the Tenderloin, one in the Western Addition — also displaced dozens of tenants. Investigators say the three fires together caused more than $11.5 million in damage.
Some residents of the Mission District building told investigators that alarms in the apartment malfunctioned and that the first they knew of the danger was when firefighters arrived to rescue them. Tenants also said that some fire escapes were blocked.
Fire officials, building inspectors and the building’s owner, though, all say the alarms and fire escapes in the structure were appropriately certified.
Nevertheless, Supervisor David Campos said he’s concerned — tenants told him the devices did not work, and the building may have had other safety violations.
“The facts of the fire at 22nd and Mission raise a number of questions,” Campos said earlier this week. He wants the Board of Supervisors to consider changes to the city’s fire safety ordinances.
“We want to make sure that the tragedy that happened at Mission Street, where we had one fatality, that something like that doesn’t happen again,” Campos said in an interview.
On Wednesday, several Campos aides met with officials at the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) and the Fire Department. Several fire safety proposals emerged from that meeting.
One measure under consideration would require landlords to post prominent signs informing tenants how to contact public agencies with their safety concerns or complaints.
Fire and Department of Building Inspection officials support the idea.
“Our departments certainly support the development and implementation of steps that may prevent the kinds of multiple-alarm and devastating fires our city witnessed last week,” DBI director Tom Hui said in an email.
The industry group representing the city’s apartment owners said it’s not opposed to the idea but wants to have input into where those signs would be.
“We are always in favor of disclosure,” said Janan New, director of the San Francisco Apartment Association. “We do not believe that the lobby area may be the appropriate venue for this disclosure.”
New said the signs could go up in other public spaces, like laundry rooms, hallways and garages.
City officials are also considering having the Fire Department and DBI conduct more frequent inspections of apartment buildings that are at least four stories tall or have 16 or more units, San Francisco’s fire marshal says.
The fire marshal, Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Michie Wong, said a series of other steps are under consideration, too, including:
- Creating a fire safety checklist for landlords.
- Requiring fire investigations to include whether buildings had working sprinklers, alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Posting the Fire Department’s investigative reports on major fires online after the inquiries have concluded.
Wong said in an email that the proposals represent “a step forward in getting building owners to maintain their buildings and may help lessen fires.”
This is the third time in a year that big fires in the city have prompted tougher safety enforcement.
The inferno that destroyed a 172-unit apartment building under construction near AT&T Park last March prompted more stringent rules for construction crews doing “hot work” like welding.
That fire and another one in the city’s Mid-Market area last August also led the Fire Department to become more aggressive in penalizing contractors who violate safety rules.