Sarasota's fire chief reflects on London fire as local high rises go up

Local fire department explains how they would handle large fire

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Sarasota is seeing high-rises going up, but are emergency crews ready for a high-rise rescue? Their skills were put to the test over the weekend.

 A construction worker was hanging on for his life 17 stories up Sunday afternoon. His scaffolding collapsed at the new Vue ---a luxury condominium building in downtown Sarasota.

 “It’s tough, not the average call,” says Paul Zellar, Sarasota County firefighter.

 Zellar is part of the Sarasota County Fire Department’s Special Operations Team that headed up to the Vue’s rooftop.

“There are a lot of technical skills involved; it’s what we train for,” says Zellar.

The nine-year veteran was the one heading down, scaling down the side of the building. Zellar was the worker’s lifeline.

I "tried to keep him calm, focused on me,” says Zellar.  “If he had fallen, (it's) not a rescue but recovery. Most likely he would not survive fall from that height.”

It’s the kind of rescue Sarasota County’s fire chief says they’re prepared for, especially with all the new high rises. City officials say there are 3,000 townhomes, condos, apartments and nearly 1,000 hotel rooms up or planned for downtown Sarasota.

"The building worked in our favor," Zellar said of the rescue. "Newer buildings have anchors up top.”

There are also built-in anchor points down the outside walls used by window cleaners for safety that firefighters can also use.

 But what if a high-rise fire breaks out like the one in London that killed 12 people?

“The fire in London where the entire building is on fire is very rare," Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier says.

Regnier says the outcome here would be different it’d be better.

“The fire codes in U.S. are stringent." he says. "Look at all the time reviewed to make sure it does not happen here.”

He adds. “Most buildings going up mostly residential have sprinkler systems in the entire building not only common areas every residence every area of the building.”

Regnier says older buildings are retrofitted.

In London, reports say firefighters told residents to stay inside.

“Every fire is unique. I don’t know the situation in London. We have told people to stay indoors when it’s small. If it's small we can keep them inside they are safe. If it’s a larger fire exit the building as quickly as possible,” explains Regnier.

  The tragedy in London does serve as a reminder, Regnier says. It "keeps us vigilant to make sure we keep our nose to the grindstone (and) make sure it does not happen here.”

Reports say cladding -- an exterior layer added to the outside wall of the apartment building in London last year -- may have accelerated the fired.

 

 

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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