I-TEAM: Management of high-rise to face fine over sprinkler failure

Despite fire that injured 5 people, 1 firefighter, fine is only $80

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The company that manages the 10-story senior living apartment complex that remains evacuated after a fire 10 days ago will face a fine for not making mandated repairs to the building's sprinkler system, the I-TEAM learned Thursday.

News4Jax investigators uncovered the safety violation for the Jacksonville Townhouse Apartment hours after the Dec. 18 fire, and Thursday the I-TEAM learned the company will be fined $80.

Yes, violation of city's fire code that endangered hundreds of people and has kept them displaced from their homes over the holidays will cost Cambridge Management only $80.

About 250 residents of the 10-story building remain banned from the building while repairs are made to smoke and water damage caused by the fire and asbestos found during the cleanup is remediated.

Management has not said when residents will be allowed back home.

Eddie Moore and his 81-year-old mother, who is on dialysis, are struggling after a fire forced them from their apartment in the building.

"This is really an inconvenience for a lot of us," Moore said. "They've changed our whole lifestyle in a sense, so yeah, it's really rough."

It was an inconvenience that possibly didn't have to happen.

Just hours after the three-alarm fire injured five residents and one firefighter, the I-TEAM reported that the building's fire pump wasn't working, making the sprinkler system largely ineffective. We even obtained a photo showing of the fire marshal red-tagging the fire pump Oct. 24. Cambridge Management was given 30 days to make repairs, but didn't.

On Dec. 1, the fire marshal, Kevin Jones, sent Cambridge Management an email instructing them to begin a 24/7 fire watch or evacuate the building until the fire pump was repaired. Jones told News4Jax the management company never even responded.

Jones said Thursday he will issue a citation to Cambridge Management and fine them, but a list of city ordinances shows the fine on a first offense is only $80. The second instance is $130 and a third instance has a fine of $250.

Jones said that in his 15 years as fire marshal, "this incident is the first time that I know of where a fire watch was not instituted after a company was instructed to institute one."

For Moore and other residents suffering through the holidays in a hotel, the $80 fine is frustrating.

"It don't sound right at all," Moore said.

According to city code enforcement guidelines, violating the fire code is considered a class B code-enforcement violation, which is what mandates that $80 fine threshold. Larger fines are found in Class C to Class F, including violations of codes regulating signs, outdoor displays and zoning.

The highest fine News4Jax could find was $500 for a class F violation, which only applies to the city's adult entertainment ordinances. So it appears strip clubs can receive higher fines for code violations then buildings with dangerous fire issues.

Jones said he can't fine Cambridge Management until he is able to talk with someone, but they have not yet been available to be interviewed.

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