Friday afternoon, the Houston Fire Department reported a two-alarm fire at a high-rise building. The structure is located near the intersection of Kirby and the Southwest Freeway. Preliminary information indicated smoke in the lobby of the ninth floor, but the actual fire had not been identified, and no one has yet been evacuated. Arson may be involved.
This recent incident, occurring shortly after the one-year anniversary of a hotel fire further west on the Southwest Freeway that claimed the lives of four fire fighters, remind all of us that, even in 2014, the threat of building fires is real and serious. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association reported 381,000 fires in residential structures during 2012 in the United States. That exceeds 1,000 fires per day in houses and residential buildings.
These figures are alarming, and demand continued vigilance. The best policy, of course, is prevention. Techniques can range from the simple (“be careful when using candles”) to very sophisticated engineering and construction policies. These policies, enforced in building codes, can also help to limit the spread of fires. In addition, smoke detectors and fire alarms help occupants escape, while various sprinkler systems provide suppression.
Fire professionals can propose sensible improvements to building codes; but, unfortunately, builders often resist change, and so the matter devolves into a political contest. Well organized and politically-active developers frequently have better access to and influence upon city leaders. As a result, it is essential that our elected officials know they have the support of the public when they seek to improve fire safety in our community.