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Fire Marshal explains why hallway doors trapped residents in Little Italy apartment flood

Posted at 5:53 PM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 21:18:36-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The San Diego Fire Marshall explained to 10News in an exclusive interview Wednesday why dozens of residents in a Little Italy apartment complex were trapped when a vandal flooded their stairwell.

February 25th, around midnight residents heard the alarm go off, their only route of escape was to head to the stairs, but once they reached the bottom, they realized there was too much water to get out. When they climbed back up the stairs, they realized, they were locked in.

"It felt like a waterfall coming down on you," Resident Ryan Lange said.

"It was a freak accident," Fire Marshall Chief Doug Perry said the issue is the doors were supposed to unlock whenever an emergency alarm goes off. "When you're in an interior stair it's supposed to be openable from the egress side and ingress side without any special knowledge," Chief Perry said.

Normally the locked hallway doors act as a way to protect residents from intruders. Chief Perry said the building management is being notified of the problem and given three options to fix it.
Those are:

-Install hardware on the doors so they unlock automatically when an alarm is triggered.
-Install a button in the lobby so firefighters may unlock the doors during an emergency.
-Install a phone on the 5th floor so anyone in the hallway can call a 24/7 service to unlock the doors remotely during an emergency.

Chief Perry said the issue would've become apparent during their annual inspection, "we were right about the time frame where in the next two or three months we would've been in that building, we walk the whole building, check all the life safety stuff."

So how did this fall through the cracks in the first place? The building's approved plans on file show the fire code was missed in the developing stages. "The onus is truly on the architect, because the arcitect is the design professional who knows these codes inside and out," Chief Perry said human error is always a concern.

Thanks to Chief Perry, a fix is on the way or 1810 State Street. "Channel 10 should take credit for it because of the phone call that you made to me and got me involved with it," he said.

If the building was one story taller it would have fallen under more strict codes and this would not have happened. If you have a concern about your building, contact your management.