Mayor Martin O'Malley is moving up plans to place a $1.5 million sprinkler system in a city-owned high-rise apartment building after a second fatal fire in two months traumatized some residents there.
The fires - one Jan. 16 and the other Friday - occurred at 727 Druid Park Lake Drive, one of two connected high-rises at Lakeview Towers across from Druid Lake. Three people died in the two fires.
In a 90-minute meeting with about 100 residents, O'Malley also promised to replace often-broken elevators and wire smoke alarms to automatically trigger a monitoring service that could alert the Fire Department sooner if another blaze occurs.
"We're here to give you folks some reason to hope and offer a little bit of comfort," said O'Malley, in announcing the $3.2 million emergency changes.
Some residents said the city's response is too late.
"This should have happened after the first fire," said Ryan Martin, who was trapped in his wheelchair in the stairwell of the 12th floor during the first fire and hospitalized for 16 days with smoke inhalation. "It's a little bit late because each fire has taken a life unnecessarily."
Many residents asked O'Malley and city housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano to allow them to move into other city-owned, subsidized rentals or to help them find another place to live. The tower at 727 Druid Park Lake Drive has 160 units and is nearly full, and Graziano said the city's other properties have fewer than 60 vacancies.
"It's just not physically possible to move everyone," Graziano said.
O'Malley and Graziano were joined by Fire Department officials, who tried to assure residents that the steps being rushed into place would make their homes safer.
Because the tower at 727 Druid Park Lake Drive was built in 1970, before a code that requires sprinklers in each apartment took effect, it was exempted from the rules. The other tower, at 717 Druid Park Lake Drive, was built in 1980 and has sprinklers.