We are taking a deeper look into the history of the Chesapeake Crossing Apartments, where a large fire left three dead, several injured and more than one hundred people displaced. 13News Now checked with the fire department to see if the buildings had any violations that could have played a role in this fire.
The biggest finding of our investigation might surprise people. We dug through reports put together after fire department inspections and re-inspections. There are five reports spanning more than two years.
We learned the buildings that burned, where residents were killed and injured, did not have a fire alarm system.
“Fire alarms have not been working,” Giselle Custodio, whose mother lives at Chesapeake Crossing, told us.
Her complaint is one we heard from residents and their loved ones over and over when talking about the tragedy that claimed lives at the Chesapeake Crossing Apartments.
“The fire alarms did not go off,” Ernestine Tillett confirmed. “If it had not been for a knock on the door, I wouldn't have known anything was going on.”
Tillett heard nothing because there was not a fire alarm system to hear. There is nothing wrong with that in terms of code compliance.
After digging through the inspection reports and listening to resident concerns, we went back to the fire marshal with questions. Turns out fire alarms in the buildings with the 1937 address are not required.
We've uncovered the code at the time these buildings were constructed in the early 90s did not require fire alarms. So despite this absence, which might shock some people, the buildings are in fact code compliant in this aspect.
It's important to note, the fire department said there are smoke detectors installed in the units, and the sprinkler system has audible alarms when water is flowing, as well.
“There was a lot of things wrong with the building, a lot of things,” Custodio added.
We wanted to check on her concerns, as well. In just nine months, inspectors have visited the Chesapeake Crossing community four times. The initial inspection was done in August. It includes violations for the buildings that caught fire Saturday morning and others on the property, as well.
According to the report, for those 1937 buildings, the management company had to clear violations including moving combustible materials out of the equipment rooms, clearly marking fire lanes and making sure the sprinkler room key is accessible for firefighters.
The main issue noted by fire inspectors in their last full inspection is that the fire sprinkler inspection and fire alarm inspection reports were overdue. The Chesapeake fire marshal’s office relayed management acted on those violations. The company hired a contractor to complete those reports two months later. We just learned in October of 2016, buildings addressed 1937 earned a clean inspection.
You might wonder why then, did inspectors have to return. We've uncovered the main outstanding violation in the report, which is listed as an inspector noticing “outdoor sprinkler heads to have corrosion issues,” doesn't apply to the buildings where residents were killed and injured. In fact, the 1937 buildings don't have outdoor sprinkler systems.
The management company is in the process of gathering bids to replace the outside corroded sprinkler heads in the other buildings.
We also learned the Virginia Housing Development Authority checks in on Chesapeake Crossing because it received low-income housing tax credits. The last inspection to make sure the property is maintained and operated in an acceptable manner was three years ago. Those inspectors are supposed to return next month.