The Silent Defenders

At 12:10 am on Wednesday, May 11th, the Auburn Hills Fire Department was dispatched to the 3300 block of Kassandra Way for a reported structure fire.  The fire started in a unit within the Mosaic of Auburn Hills Apartment Complex, located at the southeast corner of Baldwin Road and Collier Road.   When personnel arrived on the scene, they observed a large fire visible through the roof of one of the complex’s six apartment buildings.  It was described as a scary sight to see.

In addition to the apartment units directly affected by the fire, many others were impacted by water and smoke damage.  Quick action from the Auburn Hills Police Department and the Oakland County Sherriff’s Office ensured everyone was safely out of the affected 15-unit apartment building.  Fire personnel from Rochester Hills, Orion Township, Independence Township, and Oakland Township provided mutual aid at the scene.  Fire crews were able to knock down the fire from the exterior of the building and make entry to extinguish the fire that had spread to the common attic space above the apartments.  Kudos to these outstanding firefighters for their fine work protecting our community and the residents of this apartment building.

Most people don’t think about a fire occurring at their apartment unit when deciding to sign a lease at a complex.  People assume their apartment building will be safe.  In this case, this apartment building was only a few years old, and City building inspectors, often called “silent defenders,” made sure the building met modern codes and standards.  A working sprinkler system and intact fire stops significantly helped slow the spread of the fire.  Fire and building inspectors explained that this fire could have been much worse if the building had been built a few decades earlier without these modern protections.

Fire Chief Adam Massingill explained that even though they encountered heavy fire upon arrival, the firewall, that extends from the ground floor through the attic to the roof, slowed the spread enough that they could get ahead of the fire and contain it to the area of origin.  The fire likely started on the second-story balcony of one of the units and spread into the building.  Since the fire reached the attic above the sprinkler system in the unit’s ceiling, the only thing stopping the spread of the fire was the quick action of the firefighters and the firewall.

A firewall separates each apartment unit with a fire and smoke barrier in the attic, stopping the fire from moving across the ceiling throughout the entire apartment building.  Firewalls are built thicker than standard walls with significant structural stability under fire conditions. These walls are built and rated for one to four-hour fire resistance depending on the size and use of a building.  Without the unit’s firewall, it would have been challenging for the firefighters to get ahead of the fire, and it likely would have spread through the whole building. 

Although it was sad to see families impacted by this fire, it was rewarding for our building inspectors to observe that damage was limited to just a small portion of the building due to their plan review and inspections during the building’s construction for code compliance.  It was a case study of why you need these “silent defenders” looking out for the safety of the people living and working in our community.  They did their job, along with the Police and Fire personnel, to protect the residents, a model of effective government in action.

Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

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