Some residents say prior, human-caused false alarms delayed their evacuation in deadly fire

Published: Feb. 16, 2017 at 10:00 AM AKST
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Some tenants left homeless this week by the deadly fire at Royal Suite Lodge apartments say that recent human-caused false alarms delayed their evacuation.

“I hate to venture to think how many people wasted, probably precious seconds, before they realized, ‘This is real. And this is serious,’” said first-floor tenant Brieanna Brooks.

Brooks said she at first assumed the 2:30 a.m. alarm Wednesday morning, signaling a very real, very dangerous fire outside her door, was a prank or mistake given recent history at the building.

"It’s been 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and all the sudden the fire alarm goes off and you get up and look around, there’s nothing,” she said.

The Fire Department received reports of someone pulling alarms at the 3811 Minnesota Drive apartments on Jan. 26 and again on Feb. 9, said Fire Marshal Cleo Hill.

While Anchorage Fire Chief Denis LeBlanc said the frequency of those human-caused false alarms would not, in his view, cause people to assume the fire was someone “crying wolf,” some tenants told Channel 2 they indeed assumed the latest alarm was nothing to worry about.

“In the last couple of weeks we’ve had several,” said Robert Miller, a bus driver who lived on the third floor and woke up to the alarm. “People were getting in arguments and for one reason or another would set off the fire alarm. One night, a lady did it four times.”

“It definitely delayed our response in getting out of the apartment,” he said.

The building’s alarm system was most recently tested nine months ago and found to be working properly, Hill said. A separate, late-2015 inspection of the building by the city found no deficiencies that appear to be related to the Wednesday fire, she said.

LeBlanc, the fire chief, said the origin of the fire might have allowed it to burn unnoticed for several minutes.

“If it is as we believe the fire started outside in one of the cars, the alarms won’t sound until the smoke gets into the building,” LeBlanc said.