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Fatal fall investigation reveals fire escapes not inspected

By: MATT STEINER matt.steiner@gazette.com
January 24, 2014 Updated: January 24, 2014 at 8:36 pm
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Two days after a 41-year-old man fell to his death from a fire escape in downtown Colorado Springs, the city's fire marshal Brett Lacey said few details were available about the accident but explained why exterior fire escapes are no longer used in construction.

"Fire escapes are typically found on older buildings," Lacey said, noting that they date back to the 1800s and were installed as a "means to have a second egress in case of fire."

Pedro Arrazola, the construction worker who fell about 20 feet Wednesday in the alley between the building at 31 N. Tejon St. and the bus station at Kiowa Street and Nevada Avenue, struck a metal stairwell during the fall and suffered injuries that likely led to his death, Colorado Springs police said.

Police called the fall an "industrial incident" and don't suspect foul play. Arrazola was pronounced dead at the scene about 2 p.m. Lacey said Friday afternoon that the fall was under investigation by the Colorado Springs Fire Department.

The fire marshal said interior egresses such as wide concrete and steel stairwells are part of modern fire codes and allow more people to make their escape under much safer conditions. In May 2011, Colorado Springs adopted the 2009 edition of the International Fire Code and updated their standards from the city's previous 2001 guidelines.

Lacey said "old-fashioned" fire escapes such as the one on the east side of the building where Arrazola fell were not built to specific standards. He said they were made with different materials and designs and didn't necessarily provide the safest route out of a burning building.

"There were any combination of ways that fire escapes were made," he said. "There weren't a lot of standards or priorities."

He also said exterior escapes are subject to weather elements such as ice and water that could add to the danger.

Lacey said the fire department does not regularly inspect escapes, and there is no law outlining a schedule for inspection. He said building owners are responsible for making sure fire escapes on their property are "maintained in good working order and are clear of obstructions."

Fire department inspectors occasionally are called in to buildings for other reasons. At that time, they will look at fire escapes and make sure there are no obvious problems.

As for 31 N. Tejon St., Lacey said an inspector from his department was last in the building in 2011 after a fire official made a referral for another issue. Lacey said he saw the report and didn't see anything noted about the fire escape.

That's not out of the ordinary, he said.

"If we don't see any issue with something, we're not going to write it up," Lacey said.

The fire marshal said investigations into deaths such as Arrazola's are unpredictable.

"I get that people want some answers," Lacey said. "But we just don't know when the investigation will be completed."

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