Archive for Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Law firm: Fire alarms didn’t work during blaze

Boardwalk Apartments system was up to code, fire marshal says

November 15, 2005


A lawyer whose firm used half-page newspaper advertisements to solicit victims of the Boardwalk Apartments fire says none of the "half a dozen or so" respondents reported hearing or being awakened by an alarm.

"I've not talked to a single person who heard a fire alarm go off," said Andrew Nantz, a partner in Hunter & Nantz, a Kansas City, Mo., law firm.

Nantz declined to say whether litigation was likely.

"We're still in the investigation stage," he said.

The Oct. 7 fire claimed the lives of three tenants. More than 80 people were displaced after losing all or most of their possessions.

"I can't mention names," Nantz said, "but I've talked to an individual who was watching television on the third floor, heard some commotion, looked outside, saw the fire, and called 911."

Nantz said the 911 dispatcher asked the tenant questions "like where are you calling from and are you sure it's a fire?"

The questions, Nantz said, imply the tenant may have been the first to call 911.

The alarm in the tenant's apartment did not go off, Nantz said.

"Ask yourself what kind of alarm system was in place that lets a person look out their window, see flames and be on the phone to 911 and still not go off?" Nantz said.

But Lawrence Fire Marshal Rich Barr said Boardwalk Apartments had some alarms - though it's unclear how many - that had gone off.

"We've determined through interviews that some of the alarms had sounded," Barr said. "But we don't know if they all went off."

Barr explained that because the Boardwalk Apartments were built in 1965, they were not subject to regulations that, had the complex been built today, would require sprinklers and a sophisticated alarm system.

At the time of the fire, Boardwalk Apartments only had to have smoke alarms. Barr said the apartment complex was in compliance with city code but noted that his department has neither the time nor personnel to "physically go into each individual apartment."

Barr said he had no way to know whether each apartment's smoke alarm worked before or during the fire.

He warned that smoke alarms do not go off until they detect smoke.

"If there's a fire outside your apartment and your front door is sealed, it'll be a while before your smoke detector goes off," Barr said. "There has to be smoke in the room before it goes off."

As fire marshal, Barr said he favors requiring landlords to install sprinklers and state-of-the-art smoke detectors in the city's aging apartment complexes. But such a requirement, he said, would cost millions of dollars and would prove difficult to enact and enforce.

Nantz argued that even if Boardwalk Apartments was in compliance with city fire codes, it wasn't relieved of its legal obligations to protect its tenants.

"Meeting the standard of law and meeting a standard of code are two different things," Nantz said.

Nantz said his firm took out half-page advertisements in the Journal-World after being contacted by a tenant.

"Basically, what we're saying is that if anybody has information - whether or not they're a potential claimant - we'd like to talk to them," he said. "It's important to get to people while (memories) are fresh."

Nantz said he's sure other tenants have been in contact with other law firms.

Sandara Meyer and her husband, Ronnie, were displaced by the fire.

"I was the last one out," Meyer said. "Ronnie jumped out the second-floor window, broke his arm in three places."

Their smoke alarm, she said, did not go off. She's seen the advertisements for Hunter & Nantz.

"We're planning on calling them," she said, "but we haven't yet. We just got through fighting for Ronnie's disability and for my heart medicine."

Contacted by the Journal-World, Boardwalk Apartments manager Donna Watson declined comment Monday.

A spokeswoman for Stinson Morrison Hecker, an Overland Park law firm representing Boardwalk Apartments, also declined comment.


kshaff03 12 years, 7 months ago

I lived in those buildings, and the fire alarms would go off every time I over cooked a grilled cheese sandwich

craigers 12 years, 7 months ago

And here come all the lawsuits so that people can make a buck and the lawyers can make a few thousand. How nice.

Oh and the punchline is a "good start."

nlf78 12 years, 7 months ago

Another case of ambulance chasers at their best! I hope that the lawyers don't get rich off of the suffering of the residents of Boardwalk! And I lived in Boardwalk for over 2 years...there were a couple of times that the fire alarms would go off and there was NO fire to be seen.

pylon25 12 years, 7 months ago

So you all feel that its OK for the complex to put their residents in danger because their within the code? "Whats safe isnt always legal and whats legal isnt always safe". I would expect any apartment i lived in to have some sort of fire detection system, and expect it to work. I think it's great that their going after them, maybe it will light a fire under the other landlords in town that are operating unsafe buildings.

Sigmund 12 years, 7 months ago

Note to LJW editors and writers: When the boss said "If it bleeds, it leads" he meant recently. Front page stories are not made from some small time shyster calling a reporter and saying; "I can't mention names, but I've talked to an individual who was watching television on the third floor, heard some commotion, looked outside, saw the fire, and called 911." This is true even if the month old pictures are dramatic. I am having a hard time deciding who is put in the worst light by this story; the ambulance chasers or the LJW "newsroom".

Note to victims of the arsonist who started the fire: We all feel sympathy for your situation. We all wish you the best of luck. With that in mind let me tell you about the attorneys who represent Boardwalk Apartments. Stinson Morrison Hecker is one of the largest, most prestigious, and highly respected law firms (at least within the legal community) in the area. This means they attract the brightest, hardest working, and best connected associates in the area. When they walk into the courtroom, judges and opposing attorneys will listen very carefully to their legal arguments. This doesn't mean they always win, but they didn't get that big losing alot of cases, even close ones, and they don't have to advertise for clients in a pathetic little rag like the LJW.

Therefore, if you feel you have a legitimate cause of against Boardwalk apartments, please do yourself a favor and dump the ambulance chasing low life whose biggest cases are "slip and fall, spill and burn" nuisance cases. Find a equally prestigious firm in Kansas City, Topeka, or St. Louis make an appointment and talk with someone who can help you evaluate your position. If they believe you have a cause of action they will take it on a contingency basis, if not you can't afford to pay their hourly rate and won't be wasting your time. If you feel the need to fight this battle, give yourself at least a chance to make it all worth it.

adky 12 years, 7 months ago

Ask LPD if they heard the alarms. They were there throughout the incident.

lv2ride 12 years, 7 months ago

I really don't understand why everyone has to be so negative. There are people who have lost a lot, if not everything and others who even lost thier lives. don't you think it should be their own business how they go about getting through it and not everyone elses? If they feel they need to sue someone, then let them go for it. There is always a lesson to learn in everything that happens. Maybe the apartment complexs all around will learn something from all of the law suits that come out of this. There are all kinds of people that make the world go round and without all of those differences, we would have quite a boring world. Let people be themselves and stay out of their business until you are asked to join in. I lived in the ground floor, about two or three apartments in from the North end (510 fireside). I agree with a previous entry, if you fear that your smoke detector does not work...spend $10.00 and fix it yourself. Don't wait on someone else to do something that you can do yourself, it might just help save your own life.

Rainy 12 years, 7 months ago

Interesting that the 911 dispatcher asked if they were sure it was a fire. Three years ago I was driving down K10 and saw a car on fire with two teenage girls standing outside of it. I called 911 on my cell phone and the dispatcher asked me if I was sure the car was on fire. I asked if orange flames shooting out from under the front of the car constituted on fire.

That car burnt down to a charcoaled shell. Why don't they just send someone and think better safe than sorry, rather than ask... Are you sure it is on fire?

schweppy 12 years, 7 months ago

I don't understand why just because the apartments were built in 1965 they were not subject to current safety regulations. It seems odd that the buildings were not required to meet the current fire codes. Wouldn't we expect a car built in 1965 to be retro-fitted with seat belts today, even though they werent required then?

pylon25 12 years, 7 months ago

Notice they havent filed a suit yet, their investigating the possibility. Part of that process is trying to find evidence. And the assertation that we shouldnt reform safety codes due to the cost is absurd. Lets keep it cheap by allowing it to be unsafe, thats rediculous.

pylon25 12 years, 7 months ago

Again, how do you know they lack evidence? The fire marshall's report will be unsealed eventually, so why wait until then to prepare? It's not costing anyone but the lawyers anything right now. Again, the attorneys are investigating into suspected fault, not pointing fingers yet, just investigating. They do have a cause, and its the people who lost everything who they are looking out for. I see no problem with them investigating. The property owner has a duty of care to provide a safe place for their tenants to live, and they are doing the prudent thing by ensuring that said duty was fulfilled rather than blindly assuming that it was all ok.

Sigmund 12 years, 7 months ago

The fault has been determined, it was arson. No matter how much money a landlord spends "retrofitting", things and people will be lost in an fire. That is true even for the newer, nicer, costlier apartments you so kindly refer to as "urban sprawl."

For those that lost things, you should have had rental insurance. I bet your rental contract even said you needed to provide your own. For those that lost friends, we will try and get you justice by convicting the arsonist.

The simple fact is no apartment in Lawrence, Kansas is arson proof and no amount of retrofitting will change that. It will only drive up the cost of living in Lawrence so high that nobody but ambulance chasers can live here. No matter how much you hate your landlord if he follows the current law it is unfair to make him pay for the criminal acts of someone else. That is not justice, it is unfair, and it's immoral.

kshaff03 12 years, 7 months ago

In response to the complaints about the buildings not having to adhere to the current codes: it could cost millions to add a sprinkler system to the apartments.

The reason that most residents lived in that building (including myself) was because it was cheaper than any other one bedroom apartment in town. If you installed sprinklers no one could have lived there.

In response to going beyond the call of duty in providing safety for tenants:

If they posted a message on my door telling me that sprinklers were being installed and that my rent would go up $100, I would tell them to go to hell.

Don't forget that as a tenant, it is your responsibility to test your firealarm on a regular basis.

In Donna Watson's defense. She was always responsive to your requests, and always willing to make accomidations. She even established a pattern of moving single bedroom tenants to better apartments (often two-bedroom) at the same rent if there were issues (such as heating) that could not be resolved. The apartments (although far from luxury) were well maintained (sprayed regularly and heater serviced).

Godot 12 years, 7 months ago

Schweppy and Pylon25: Next time you go downtown to tip a few or have a meal, think about the fact that it is highly likely that the building you are in is not sprinklered. Considering what tinderboxes some of those buildings are, and what activities go on in them, that's even scarier than an apartment building without sprinklers.


pylon25 12 years, 7 months ago

All i'm saying is that i dont feel its out of line for the attorneys to conduct an investigation on their own on behalf of the tenants. Basically a second opinion on the fire marshall. I'm not saying the buildings were up to code or were not up to code just that its completely justified to conduct a private investigation, and should something be found, a lawsuit is reasonable. I think that point got lost in the assumption that i'm saying the building was bad, etc.

Godot 12 years, 7 months ago

It is a shame that the Journal World resorts to interviewing its advertisers in order to come up with a front page story. Really, really sad. Of course, the JW gets most of its story lines from the forums, anyway, so, what the hey? Just by posting here, we are contributing to the national cudu's the JW receives. And we don't even get paid for it. We're all suckers.

maveric 12 years, 6 months ago

since I was one of Boardwalks victims, I can personally say the smoke alarms DID NOT work. First off I was outside around 1am and seen nothin and heard nothin, and about 1:15-1:25 the electric kept going off and on and I was trying to send an email that I couldn't send do to the electric going off and on. When the electric finally went out I heard screaming thinking neighbors across the street fighting again and when I opened up my front door all there was, was a poop load of smoke and I was on the 3rd floor and for my protection from harrassments I will not disclose what building I lived in and with a smoke alarm right by the front door with a new battery just installed 2 weeks prior never I mean NEVER went off with the amount of smoke coming in my door and it was fresh right out of the box and brand new duracell battery put in out of package. With the poor maintenance and so called half butt work they do to repair just to make things work so so, In my 9 years living there they never once checked gas lines to furnises, smoke alarms, or outlets because when you plug even a string of X-mas lights it would pop the fuses, and my time spent there at Boardwalk all those years of verbal abuse and verbal threats from the landlord and poor maintenance work I am surprised nothin happened sooner. I lost everything I own I worked for for the last 18 years and its all gone with no family support or help. So before anyone jumps conclussions on what they say may or might of happened I lived there and personally not one smoke alarm went off because I know many of my neighbors even some very close to where the fire started and one maintnance man lived and he didn't even hear his smoke alarm go off and he lived in the building where the fire started and him and his girlfriend jumped out there 2nd floor window so as proof to answer many of your questions NO SMOKE ALARMS WORKED. No I am away from there along with others whom lived there and delt with the verbal abuse and poor maintnance work we are seeking legal help to insure we get what we deserve rightfully from the law instead of being afraid of our old landlord that abused the system and tenants, if the health department went in right now and did a lead and mold test among other test that place would be shut down. Like the maintenance man told me before the fire after only a few months working there that he never seen so much clutter and illegal wiring that if boardwalk was to get inspected by the city they would start shutting it down one building at a time, so whom to blame the Landlord because she stopped doing background checks on people because they are hurting for money from new roofing and would move anyone in, just like the guy whom did the shooting earlier this year whom was a tenant that lived in the same building as the rental office whom had been in alot of trouble in the past according to public records, so if anyone is to blame for putting innocent people in danger its the Landlord herself.....

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