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Fire Safety Orders Issued for Pre-'43 Buildings

Times Staff Writer

The first batch of compliance orders have been sent to landlords of pre-1943 apartment buildings in Los Angeles, ordering them to adhere to the latest city fire codes requiring sprinklers and magnetic hallway doors that close automatically when triggered by a smoke detector, officials have announced.

The compliance orders, covering nearly 250 apartment buildings in the city, were announced Thursday at a Fire Commission meeting after a pre-dawn Wilshire district blaze in which one person died and 20 others were injured last Wednesday.

Deputy Fire Chief Craig Drummond, who is in charge of fire prevention, told the commission that if the so-called Dorothy Mae fire codes--passed last year after a fatal blaze at an apartment-hotel by the same name in 1982--had been applied at the New Beverly Crest apartment building at 416 N. Oxford St., “there would only have been a minor, easily extinguished fire.”

Instead, the absence of sprinklers and absence of the magnetic hallway doors allowed the fire to race unimpeded through the four-story building, he said. Many of the 100 residents panicked because of the flames, and some jumped out of third- and fourth-story windows to safety.

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Safety Standards

Overall, 1,301 apartment buildings are expected to be ordered to comply with the Dorothy Mae codes, said Art Devine, head of the city Building and Safety Department’s conservation bureau, which oversees safety standards in all structures in the city.

“We hope to have compliance notices sent to all of the (pre-1943) buildings by this time next year,” Devine said.

After that, compliance with the Dorothy Mae codes, enacted in response to the fire at the Dorothy Mae Apartment Hotel near downtown in which 24 people died, can be expected within three years, he said.

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Devine admitted that enforcement of the new fire standards was slowed by the lack of city inspectors. Once hired, the new inspectors then had to work with contractors to interpret the codes, deciding, for example, if plastic pipes could be used in the sprinkler systems.

However, Devine added that enforcement of the new codes have gone smoothly since February, resulting in many of the compliance notices that were announced last week.

Drummond told the commission that enforcement also was slowed because there are not enough contractors who can do the sprinkler work, noting that “200 jobs is about all the dozen or so contractors who specialize in that kind of rehabilitation work in the city can handle at one time.”

However, he said other firms would probably enter the field when they see contracts are available.

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Range of Costs

The costs of the required improvements can range from $900 to $1,400 a unit, depending on the specifications of the apartment building involved, Devine said. Landlords who do not meet the fire codes can be prosecuted or their buildings condemned.

The sprinklers and smoke-actuated magnetic doors were required after flames at the Dorothy Mae rushed through the hallways and a stairwell when someone opened a door, allowing a burst of oxygen to ignite heated gases and create a blowtorch effect.

Under the new codes, magnetic devices activated by smoke detectors, which are required under an ordinance enacted in 1980, shut stairwell and corridor doors.

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