EVERETT — The city is making progress on bringing apartment complexes into compliance with the requirements for fire alarms.
The two-year mark is approaching for that effort. It started after the fatal New Year’s Eve fire at the Bluffs apartments in 2015. The Bluffs didn’t have fire alarms. Neighbors didn’t know what was happening until they saw smoke and flames outside their windows. Some people had to throw their children to safety from upper stories.
What happened that night led firefighters to inspect every large complex in the city for fire alarms. They found 17 properties in violation. That inspired a similar survey across Snohomish County, and 15 more violations were found in Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and unincorporated areas south of Everett.
The number of violations in Everett has been reduced to 14, upon closer review of the buildings, Assistant Fire Marshal Steve Goforth said. Some of the sites had done remodeling, or had some kind of alternative alarm, he said.
So far, five of the complexes have added alarms, he said. The others are working on permits or an installation schedule. No fines have been issued.
“Most all of the owners have realized this is about life safety,” Goforth said. “They just needed some time to fund it.”
Apartment complexes are governed by international fire codes. The codes generally require alarms at any dwelling with at least four stories or 16 units. Exemptions exist for buildings with certain safety features, such as interconnected smoke alarms.
Most of the Everett properties in violation were built before the existing codes, so the city is requiring retrofitting. A new fire alarm system can cost more than $100,000.
Across the country, major fires often prompt code reviews and emphasis inspections, Goforth said. He expects to issue reminder letters to property owners in January, with an order to obtain any remaining permits within 90 days.
In south county, the 15 properties in violation are seeing a similar pace for compliance.
All fall within the bounds of the new South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue, formerly Fire District 1. Ten are in Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace, which are served by the fire department under contract.
Most of those owners are expected to apply for permits by the end of the month, Deputy Chief Kevin Zweber said.
One location in Edmonds has started installation, he said. Four more sites in Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace have been issued permits. Two complexes in Mountlake Terrace are getting close to that stage. One is seeking the exemption for interconnected smoke alarms.
“We’re still working with the other two complexes,” he said.
The Snohomish County Fire Marshal’s Office has jurisdiction for the violations in unincorporated areas of Lynnwood and Everett. Three of those complexes are planning to install interconnected smoke alarms, officials said.
The Cypress Heights apartment complex near Lynnwood has met other requirements for fire safety. The Raintree Village, which is public housing near Everett, has installation set for early 2018.