As finishing touches are being made to a new hotel that towers 10 stories above Lawrence, it’s not what Fire Chief Mark Bradford sees from the outside that concerns him most.
It’s the part of The Oread that’s 80 feet below ground he’s focused on. It’s the place where people will soon gather to drink and dance at The Cave, a nightclub that’s four stories below ground, and where dozens of cars will be parked on four decks of underground parking.
“The one area that we really hate more than anything else to fight fire is below grade,” said Bradford, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical chief. “There just aren’t too many ways out.”
Many safety measures have been employed at The Oread, 12th and Indiana streets, to protect people from the potential hazards involved with such a complex structure.
Bradford said the building on the north edge of the Kansas University campus presents a unique situation for local firefighters: rescuing people from or fighting fire below ground, next to four decks of cars filled with rapidly burning gasoline.
“We train all the time for high-rise firefighting, we train for automobile fires in confined spaces,” Bradford said. “It’s just a new location.”
People visiting the below-ground floors of the new development — the nightclub is slated to open next week — will be protected from the parking areas by firewalls. And in the event of a fire, people will be able to leave the building through a stairwell leading them directly outside. They won’t have to exit through the parking garage.
Nancy Longhurst, general manager of The Oread, said fire safety has been a priority throughout work on the entire project, which is expected to be finished by February.
“We welcome all of our guests, and we want them to feel good and comfortable and happy in their surroundings,” she said.
Fire administrators have been working each week with developers of the new facility, valued at about $40 million, to make sure that many safety features are in place and that all of the building meets the strictest fire protection standards and codes.
It’s unlikely that the hotel structure itself would ever catch fire; it’s made entirely of concrete, stone and granite, the fire chief said. But things inside could ignite and people may still need to be rescued.
“We have complied with every single aspect of the fire department’s rules and regulations,” Longhurst said. “Everything we’ve put in here will benefit the fire department.”
Many safety features of the development have been implemented within the hotel, which will have 100 guest rooms and a handful of privately owned condos, to make firefighting easier if the need arises.
“Everything’s checked twice, and sometimes three times, to make sure that it’s done right,” Bradford said. “They’ve provided everything we’ve asked for.”