Before hydrants failed, DeKalb apartments had fire safety issues

Two months before a massive blaze sent residents of 13Ten apartments jumping from balconies in the middle of the night, there were signs of trouble.

DeKalb County officials cited the complex in unincorporated Stone Mountain for lax record keeping on inspections for fire alarms, extinguishers and the sprinkler system. A firm hired by the complex to test the property’s fire hydrants found that 14 of them had low or no pressure, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But DeKalb officials say they didn’t know about the issues with the hydrants — until they tried to get water just over a week ago. Firefighters responded to the apartments off U.S. 78 just after midnight April 27, and had trouble getting enough pressure from three hydrants, forcing them to connect to a county water main on Juliette Road, officials said.

The fire was large and fast-moving.

 Antonio Senior, 15,  is credited with saving a woman,who was forced to take the leap moments before the building in the 2000 block of Ficus Court collapsed on Friday, April 27, 2018. “She was scared,” he said. “She was shaking and said, ‘Thank you! Thank you!’” 

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At least two people complained of injuries after jumping from balconies. One building collapsed only moments after a 15-year-old boy managed to talk a woman into jumping into his arms from the balcony. Multiple families were displaced.

No suspected cause has been released for the blaze, and it cannot be said how much of a difference the hydrants made, if any. But the DeKalb County Fire Rescue department issued a citation last Monday, ordering the complex to produce copies of inspection reports for hydrants and the sprinklers, extinguishers and alarms in the building that burned. The requested documents were sent in the next day.

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Past issues

More citations are pending, a county spokesman said, though he didn’t elaborate. None of the citations issued so far list any penalty and only request that the issues be corrected.

Records obtained by the AJC through requests to county officials show that the fire marshal’s office also cited the property on Feb. 9 for code violations for allegedly not being able to show inspection records for fire alarms, extinguishers and the sprinkler system. The citation makes no mention of fire hydrants.

Six days later, on Feb. 15, the complex hired a firm to test the hydrants, and 14 of them were found to have flow issues. In Georgia, whatever entity owns fire hydrants, such as apartment complexes, are responsible for making sure they are in working order at all times.

Efforts to reach the complex’s management for comment have not been successful.

Atlanta firefighters poured water on a collapsed apartment building until daybreak in the 2000 block of Ficus Court in Stone Mountain Friday April 27, 2018. 

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According to county records, the same hydrants were tested in January 2015 and January 2017, and had normal flow. Two hydrants tested in November 2017 had flow problems.

It is not clear what is causing the problems. The fire marshal’s office plans to meet with the apartment management and require them to conduct an analysis to rule out any obstructions in the water lines to the hydrants.

Andy Lovejoy, president of Marietta-based Civil Engineering Consultants, Inc., which tests hydrants for governments and businesses, said last week that problems also can arise when hydrants aren’t tested or used for a while.

“They don’t get exercise,” he said. “Think about being in bed all day and you get up and don’t move very well.”

Since the fire, the apartment complex has made adjustments to “at least increase the flow,” the county said, though the nature of the adjustments wasn’t released.

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