In the aftermath of deadly high rise fire, County Comissioner wants answers from MPHA

Authorities have identified the fifth victim of Wednesday's high rise fire

WCCO Radio Newsroom
November 30, 2019 - 2:52 pm
Firefights at the scene of the high rise fire in Minneapolis

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In the aftermath of the high rise fire in Minneapolis's Cedar Riverside that left five people dead, questions are swirling around the causes. While authorities believe the fire was started accidentally, many have questioned why the upper floors of the building didn't have sprinkler systems.

Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley, whose district includes Cedar Riverside, says even though the buildings were not required by city code to have sprinklers, the fact that so many elderly and disabled people live there should take precedent:

“Knowing that population of who lives in your building, there should be extra  precautions in, in my opinion, to keep those folks safe. And I don't even think that's opinion really. That's just like a moral imperative that we take care of elderly people and people who are disabled so that we don't have five deaths and four injuries in a situation like a fire.” she said. 

Conley says that she plans to ask the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority what plans it has to make sure other high rises it operates all have sprinkler systems on their upper floors. 

“I think we all as a community deserve answers from the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority as to what the plan is moving forward so that we don't lose more people,” Conley said. 

"We know one thing for sure now:. Those concrete buildings, fires can spread from one unit to another. Now we have proof. So what are you going to do about that? And then two, will there be a concerted effort to put sprinkler systems throughout your high rise buildings? Those are my asks and my demands —I need answers for that.”

MPHA did not return a request for comment on Friday, which was a holiday for many workplaces. 

Activist Ladan Yusuf of Defend Glendale voiced a similar concern, saying the building should have been updated.

“If this was not a poor, low income housing, public housing, they would've had a sprinkler system a long time ago. But because to Minneapolis, poor black Muslims and poor black people and poor people in general are invisible, this is the result of it. People are, are dead and deaths have happened that could have been avoided by a sprinkler system,” she said. 

As noted by MPR News, the MPHA included the need to add sprinkler systems to older high rises in a plan approved September.

“Aging systems and infrastructure at many of our properties have exceeded their life expectancy and have started to fail. MPHA deems a portion of these items as high or urgent  needs that could become life/safety needs if left unaddressed. Additonals, as building codes have evolved, we need to address increased life/safety requirements such as retrofitting our highrise buildings with sprinkler systems,” the plan reads. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has sought to make housing policy on of his signature issues, with his office highlighting the fact that his budget proposal for next year includes  $31 million dedicated to affordable housing. And in May, he presided over a ribbon cutting for the first new public housing development in the city since 2010.  

Frey’s office issued a statement Saturday morning saying that the MPHA had not requested any additional funds for fire safety in its last budget request. 

“The federal government is the primary funder of public housing, but funds have been short for decades. With respect to local funding authority, the city of Minneapolis can only approve requests submitted by MPHA.”

Meanwhile, authorities have identified the fifth victim of this week's apartment fire in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis.  The Hennepin County medical examiner says 32-year-old Tyler Baron died of smoke inhalation. 

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