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Fire Chief Would Like Change After Fatal Fire In Older Building With No Sprinkler System

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The overnight fire, which started in Mary Robinson's sixth-floor bedroom in the Midtown Towers apartment building Downtown, quickly jumped to floors seven through 10.

The 75-year-old woman was killed and others were injured, including firefighters. All residents were evacuated and there's no timetable for when they'll be allowed back in their homes.

Fire officials say it all could have been doused immediately if the building had a sprinkler system.

"There has never been a fatality as a result of fire in a building with a working sprinkler system," said Pittsburgh Fire Bureau Chief Darryl Jones.

And yet, under existing state and local fire codes, sprinkler systems are grandfathered, meaning they are not required in any building constructed before 1990.

The argument goes that retrofitting old buildings with sprinklers is too expensive, and so, for now, they're only mandatory in newly-constructed buildings or ones that have undergone extensive renovations, like the Highland Building in East Liberty.

At the Highland Building, every hallway ceiling is lined with sprinklers and every apartment is equipped with a smoke detectors, alarms and sprinklers, which are covered with caps.

"If there were to be a fire, that cap would actually fall, and then there would be water dispersed within a three- or four-foot radius," said Courtney Jendrek, of Walnut Capital.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "So any kind of fire would be suppressed, what… within seconds?"

Jendrek: "Yes, absolutely."

Older buildings have other hidden dangers.

In the Midtown Towers, the fire spread through voids or chases between floors. Under current codes those voids would need to be sectioned off to prevent such a spread, but again, it's not required in grandfathered buildings.

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But Chief Jones, for one, would like to see new building standards and sprinklers throughout the city.

"You're talking to a guy who loves sprinklers. I would love to have sprinkler systems, even in our residential properties, single-family dwellings, I believe should be sprinklered," Chief Jones said.

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