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Fire officials cite owners of burned Garfield apartment building

Tony LaRussa
| Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 2:15 p.m.

Pittsburgh fire officials cited the owners of an apartment building that caught fire in Garfield for not having doors on stairwells that residents might have used to escape.

J.J. Land Co., which owns the building, was fined $3,000 — $1,000 for not having the doors and $1,000 each for two other violations that made it difficult for residents to get out, fire officials said Tuesday.

Jeff Weisband, one of the building's owners, said there were no doors on the stairwells when he bought the building. Allegheny County property records show J.J. Land bought the building in February 2007.

Pittsburgh firefighters responding shortly after 7 a.m. Monday used ladders to rescue 24 people as flames and smoke from a chemical fire filled the stairwells of the three-story building in the 300 block of North Negley Avenue.

A number of residents said the only way to safety was out their apartment windows and that, until firefighters arrived, they feared they might have to jump.

They said climbing down the ladders was treacherous because of falling snow.

Investigators determined the fire started when chemicals that maintenance workers left in a hallway ignited. The flames quickly spread into the stairwells, trapping many residents in their apartments.

Four people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, and paramedics treated 10 at the scene.

Fire officials cited the building's owners for blocking hallways with construction material and debris, and failing to have battery-powered lighting in the halls that come on when power goes out.

Weisband said the building is equipped with emergency lights. “I thought they were working,” he said, but could not recall the last time they were tested.

Regarding the construction material and debris, Weisband said he was “not sure about that yet.”

The city does not regularly inspect buildings for fire- and safety-code violations, said John Jennings, who heads the city's Bureau of Building Inspection.

Buildings are inspected when occupancy permits are issued or there are changes in occupancy; when work is completed on projects that require a building permit; and when complaints are filed, Jennings said.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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