The D.C. fire marshal has threatened to order the shutdown of the D.C. General Family Shelter for the homeless if the shelter’s fire alarm system is not immediately fixed and upgraded.
A D.C. government memo obtained by the News4 I-Team said the shelter’s fire prevention equipment and alarms have suffered “continuous, extensive vandalism.”
The memo said there is an emergency need to “replace all fire alarm system devices and replace all defective wiring” on the upper floors of the complex’s east wing.
The failures of some of the shelter’s fire alarms were revealed during a fire marshal inspection following an Oct. 22 fire which damaged part of the building at the sprawling complex in southeast D.C.
The memo, issued by the D.C. Department of General Services, formally proposed hiring a contractor to complete the project. The agency memo said the repairs are needed “to prevent the serious and imminent threat to the health and safety of the residents, staff and the general public.” The agency told the I-Team it is seeking “emergency” approval of funding to quickly complete the work.
D.C. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue said some, but not all, of the complex’s fire detection equipment has been damaged and rendered inoperable by vandalism. Donahue said the building includes “redundancies” and sufficient operating equipment to ensure the safety of families who reside at D.C. General.
“These problems are a scary proposition," said Amber Harding, an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic. "These families have nowhere else to go.”
D.C. officials ordered a “fire watch” program to be used at the shelter until the fire alarm equipment is repaired. Under the “fire watch” program, licensed contractors patrol and survey the building 24 hours a day to monitor for smoke and other fire risks.
The D.C. General shelter is currently home to about 200 families, according to Donahue. D.C. officials have been making plans for the permanent shut down of the facility in the coming years. The closure plans have been the subject of controversy and debate among community and government leaders.
The D.C. Department of General Services, which oversees D.C. government buildings and facilities, estimates the servicing and repairs of the shelter fire alarm system will cost $34,635.
Renetta Davis, a shelter volunteer from the Homeless Children Playtime Project, said the repairs should be an urgent priority.
“It’s a large building," Davis said. "Having working fire alarms and working escape routes is critical to the children, the families, and the staff that (we) and the government have inside here.”
Harding said the repairs are important and time-sensitive.
“There will be a lot of folks going in and out of the shelter in the next three years," she said. "It’s critically important that they be safe.”
Work is underway and will be completed within 30 days, Donahue said.