Owner of south Everett apartments ordered to install fire alarms after deadly blaze

EVERETT — The Bluffs apartments, the site of the fatal fire on New Year’s Eve, had no fire alarms, a violation of city codes.

The city of Everett has ordered the property owner to install fire alarms on every building where people are now living.

The alarms that need to be installed are the type that activate when someone pulls a lever. They operate independently from smoke detectors, which were inside apartments.

As many as 26 other apartment complexes in Everett may not be up to code with fire alarms, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said Wednesday. The fire marshal’s office started making a list after the Bluffs fire. Inspectors plan to visit each of those buildings in the coming months.

“It’s a priority,” she said. “We’ll be communicating that code and making sure property owners are aware of it.”

The Bluffs are owned by a limited liability company with addresses in California and Hawaii. The company has 90 days to apply for a work permit. After getting a permit, it has six months to install the fire alarms, according to a letter the city mailed on Friday.

The Bluffs were built in 1969, before fire sprinklers were required. Unlike the sprinkler codes, however, the fire alarm rules are retroactive. Under city codes, any apartment building with at least three stories or more than 16 units must have a fire alarm system.

The apartment complex, at 2 W. Casino Road, is federally designated low-income housing. The owner is responsible for making sure the buildings are up to code. At the same time, a local real estate firm contracts with the owner to manage day-to-day operations.

In the weeks since the blaze, there have been some uncomfortable but productive conversations between people who live at the Bluffs, a nonprofit that stepped in to help them after the fire, and the property manager, Everett-based Coast Real Estate Services.

Coast CEO Tom Hoban, who grew up in south Everett, plans to apologize in person to families for how they were treated by employees the night of the fire and afterward, he said. Two Coast employees were put on administrative leave, including the former community manager, during an internal investigation.

“They did not perform well under pressure,” he said.

The company also canceled a legal agreement the former manager distributed to residents after the fire and told them to sign. That document used Coast letterhead and was created without Coast’s knowledge, Hoban said.

The MeCHA club at Everett Community College, a Chicano/Latino student group, is helping him coordinate the public apology. Many of the families who call the Bluffs home include native Spanish speakers.

The initial agreement asked residents to waive their right to pursue litigation in exchange for the return of their security deposits.

The letter was released “without management approval,” Hoban said. “We regret the confusion it caused.”

A second legal agreement regarding the deposits was drawn up with input from Snohomish County Legal Services, a nonprofit legal group. Hand In Hand, a nonprofit based on E. Casino Road, helped mediate the conversation between the displaced families and the property owners’ lawyers.

The holdup on the deposits caused unnecessary delays for people who needed the money to take care of their families, said Todd McNeal, the executive director of Hand In Hand.

“This shed light on the issues that many under-represented communities face, and we’re hoping this can be the watershed moment to start correcting some of these injustices,” McNeal said.

Coast is expecting to refund 30 security deposits, Hoban said. So far, seven residents have signed paperwork confirming they received their deposit. Some wanted the transaction documented, Hoban said.

“The new letter agreement makes clear the residents are not waiving their legal rights,” Hoban said. “That was never our intent.”

The New Year’s Eve fire at the Bluffs was the worst blaze in Everett in years. A man died, more than a dozen people were injured, and about 130 people were displaced. Some had to leap from apartments on the second and third floors to escape.

The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter that stayed open for 22 nights.

The Red Cross has been working with 32 families, said Jamie Gravelle, a disaster manager. All of those people have found temporary housing, and all but two have found permanent housing, she said.

At one point, 47 people stayed the night in temporary shelter, local Red Cross director Chuck Morrison said. Even as folks found places to stay, they returned for meals, mental health support and help getting medications replaced.

“There truly isn’t any easy way or avenue for every family to get back on their feet,” Morrison said. “Each of them has to navigate pretty different paths. It can be confusing and certainly can be difficult, and we’re just trying to work with them and the other agencies.”

Hand In Hand is a nondenominational Christian nonprofit with a mission of serving families and children in need. Some of the families affected by the fire had participated in its programs before or attended other services offered in the building, said Angela Edwards, a Hand In Hand social worker.

“When the fire occurred, it was just natural to step in,” she said.

Edwards has met with 23 of the displaced families, connecting them with private sponsors including companies and churches. The aim is to make sure everyone gets what they need, she said.

Hand In Hand has collected $26,600 that will be used for deposits and rents, she said. Their goal is to provide assistance through February, based on need. “Every single penny will be spent on a family,” she said. “A lot of them lost work and they live paycheck-to-paycheck. A lot of the families are just one paycheck away from homelessness.”

The help has come in many ways, Edwards said. For example, a man who provides pest management for the Bluffs donated all of the gift cards from his Christmas stocking.

“We couldn’t do what we’re doing without those in the community who care and who reached out to us,” Edwards said. “All of this is made possible by the community’s generosity.”

Meanwhile, Coast has joined in some of the community fundraisers, Hoban said. Coast also bought vouchers for displaced kids to get free Boys &Girls Club memberships. Hand In Hand is distributing those.

“The fact is that we have never wavered from our commitment to do what we can to see every family find a new home and a new beginning,” Hoban said.

Hoban recently met with McNeal, the Hand In Hand director, to talk about how Coast can help with long-term healing. Hand In Hand encouraged the company to hire more staff who speak Spanish, McNeal said. Coast is now recruiting a new community manager for the Bluffs, and applicants must be bilingual.

“There have been some really positive things that have come out of this,” McNeal said, and Hoban agrees.

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

How to help

The Mukilteo YMCA still is offering free memberships for families displaced by the New Year’s Eve fire. As of Tuesday, 27 people had signed up for the memberships. For more information, call 425-493-2414.

Hand In Hand, a nonprofit on E. Casino Road, continues to work with the displaced families. For information on how to help, contact 425-374-2461, info@handinhandkids.org and www.handinhandkids.org.

Other agencies involved include the American Red Cross, Archbishop Murphy High School, Catholic Community Services, the nonprofit Snohomish County Legal Services, the Salvation Army, the Buddhist nonprofit Tzu Chi, and Volunteers of America.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

The intersection of Larch Way, Logan Road and Locust Way on Wednesday, March 27, 2024 in Alderwood Manor, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Roundabout project to shut down major Bothell intersection for months

The $4.5 million project will rebuild the four-way stop at Larch and Locust ways. The detour will stretch for miles.

State Sen. Mark Mullet, left, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, right, are both running as Democrats for governor in 2024. (Photos courtesy of Mullet and Ferguson campaigns)
Rival Democrats spar over fundraising in Washington governor’s race

Mark Mullet is questioning Bob Ferguson’s campaign finance connections with the state party. Ferguson says the claims are baseless.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

A log truck rolled over into power lines on Monday, June 17, in Darrington. (Photo provided by Alexis Monical)
Log truck rolls into utility lines in Darrington, knocking out power

The truck rolled over Monday morning at the intersection of Highway 530 and Fullerton Avenue. About 750 addresses were without power.

A house fire seriously injured two people Friday evening, June 14, in Edmonds, Washington. (Courtesy of South County Fire.)
1 killed, 1 with life-threatening injuries in Edmonds house fire

South County Fire crews pulled the man and woman from the burning home around 6 p.m. Friday, near 224th Street SW and 72nd Place W.

Melinda Grenier serves patrons at her coffee truck called Hay Girl Coffee during the third annual Arlington Pride event in Arlington, Washington on Sunday, June 2, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Hidden costs, delays crush hopeful food truck owners in Snohomish County

Melinda Grenier followed her dream to open Hay Girl Coffee. Thousands in fees later, it has cost her more than she bargained for.

x
Edmonds funds embedded social worker, for now, after contract ends

Compass Health canceled the program in south Snohomish County. The city is funding the police-embedded position for a few more months.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.