Subcontractor: Safety Concerns Raised Before Fatal Apartment Fire

Posted at 6:56 PM, Oct 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-16 21:06:15-04

New information has been released from investigators on the fire that killed a woman at the Village of Kalamazoo Apartments Monday.

They say the fire started on the third floor balcony, but they still don’t know what caused it.

The family of Daysi Sorialo said she died in the fire and they told us her boyfriend was burned as well.

Kalamazoo fire officials said the man was still in critical condition Wednesday.

When residents said that they failed to hear any alarms during the fire, it caught the attention of a former maintenance worker at the complex who called FOX 17 after seeing the initial report.

Jerry Canales said he was a subcontractor, hired by the Hope Network, to assess the apartments late last year. .

I worked for them for almost 14 years,” said Canales.

He said last November when he was asked to do an inspection on the complex and found some issues with the detectors that gave him cause for concern.

He claims some of the smoke detectors were not hard-wired into the electrical system as they typically should be.

He said that’s a back-up so that even if the battery dies, the detector will still go off.

“I Pointed out all the hazards,” said Canales. “Some fire alarms were not wired, which is code. You have to have them wired.”

He also noted that some of the smoke detectors in the complex had a weak signal, even with a battery.

“I says, ‘I don’t know much about your fire systems, your alarms, but there’s a weak signal coming out of there,’ and it was pretty much dismissed as normal,” he said.

Jerry said he was told that in-house maintenance staff would fix those issues, but he said he was skeptical.

The last Kalamazoo City inspection report from 2011 showed that there were more than 20 smoke detector violations at the apartments, which the city said were all corrected long ago.

We took Canales’ concerns about the smoke detectors to the city.

“They had hard-wired smoke detectors and there were some that were seen as not working properly when they tested them,” said Debra Miller, Kalamazoo City Housing Inspection Supervisor. “Which means they would have needed to be replaced, which they were by the time we went in and did the inspection.”

Miller said when they do the inspections, they can’t check every unit and choose a sample number to inspect.

Of the 20 plus units that had an issue in 2011, she said they were reinspected and were fixed.

She said they were comfortable that they corrected everything from that report.

She does say there could be m ore violations since then that the city is unaware of.

The day of the fire, Village Apartment managers and maintenance staff also took us on a tour to show us where the unit smoke detectors were located in the units and how they worked.

They showed us a smoke detector in the unit that was working properly, then showed us the hallway alarm panel downstairs which is linked to silent alarms in the hallway that residents couldn’t hear.

Management said the silent alarms alerted their security company which called the fire department immediately.

They considered that a success.

“We’ve had this system for nine plus years. There’s no reason to think we need to upgrade the system,” said Jonathan Fennell, Executive Director of Property Management.

Canales agrees that Site Manager Kimberly Bailey is doing her best.

 “I would say Kimberly is not at fault,” said Canales. “She is definitely one of the best property managers I ‘ve had the pleasure of working with.”

However, he feels management and the city still needs to reexamine the entire complex.

Miller said they may consider taking another look earlier than scheduled based on what comes out of the fire investigation.

“I didn’t know what has happened,” said Miller. “I didn’t’ get a report what had happened. I’m sure the fire marshal has looked at that. But, when I get the report, we’ll make a decision on what we’re going to do.”

 Management at Village Apartments referred us to Clark Communications, their representatives, for comment.  They said it was their understanding that Canales was disgruntled toward management and they were researching the claims.