Fire alarm violations at 17 Everett apartment complexes

EVERETT — The Everett Fire Department says that 17 large apartment complexes in the city remain in violation of codes requiring fire alarms.

The department conducted city-wide inspections after a fatal three-alarm blaze on New Year’s Eve. An investigation revealed a lack of alarms at the Bluffs Apartments along Casino Road.

Everett requires a central fire alarm system — the kind where someone can pull a lever — at any apartment building with at least four stories or more than 16 units. Many of the apartments in violation were built before the city required these alarm systems, but the rules are retroactive.

Since January, the fire department has inspected more than 50 properties, Fire Marshal Eric Hicks said. Violation letters were sent to 17 owners.

At least four of the property owners have responded and indicated they would apply for a permit for the work, Hicks said. He also knows of two permits that have been issued.

The alarms are important in case of a fire because they alert people to “escape or evacuate from their home before they are in danger,” Hicks said.

All of the violation locations are south of Pacific Avenue, and more than half are concentrated along Casino Road and Evergreen Way.

Of the 17 properties identified, five are condominiums with multiple owners, according to public records. Four complexes, including the Bluffs, are owned by limited liability companies with out-of-state addresses. At least three other complexes have owners with addresses outside Snohomish County.

Enforcement likely will take longer for the condos, some of which might have management boards, Hicks said.

One location on the violation list, the Lakeview Terrace Apartments along 75th Street SE, is owned by the Everett Housing Authority. The agency has been reviewing bids, with initial estimates around $130,000 for the work, Executive Director Ashley Lommers-Johnson said.

That property’s revenue comes from rent, not subsidies, and the cost is a concern, he said.

“We’re working with the fire department,” he said. “We will bring the complex into compliance. We’re absolutely committed to that, and we’re exploring what the options are.”

The fire department initially reported that 19 properties were in violation. Another review of the codes showed that a legal interpretation likely would rule out some three-story buildings, Hicks said.

“It got pointed out to us before we started sending out the letters,” he said.

The letters told the owners they had 90 days to apply for a work permit and six months to get alarms installed. The letters were sent about four months ago now. If anyone refuses or doesn’t respond, that case likely would end up before a hearing examiner, Hicks said.

He compared the new focus on alarms with a campaign started in 2007 to make sure multi-story downtown buildings had fire-safe exit routes.

“We’re still working with those building owners to get that done, many years later,” Hicks said. “That’s why (with the alarms) my projected completion was two to five years.”

A second round of warning letters now is being issued to owners who haven’t responded to the first letter, he said. The work at each building requires installing electrical equipment. Sometimes, that means breaking through drywall.

“If you’re talking a building that’s been around forever, it can be pretty intense,” Hicks said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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