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George Won’t Approve Federal Plan Unless City Board Moves Up Sprinkler Project

November 15, 2018

WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George is refusing to approve the city housing authority’s federally mandated five-year plan unless the board moves up costly plans to retro-fit its high-rise apartment buildings with fire sprinklers.

“We had two people die last year. I don’t want to see that again. It’s heartbreaking,” George said Wednesday.

Luann Gilroy, 62, died of smoke inhalation, and Gloria Nieves, 55, died of carbon monoxide intoxication in the hallway outside their fifth-floor apartments as a result of a Dec. 5 fire at Lincoln Plaza on Dec. 5.

Housing authorities must submit five-year plans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of their funding requirements.

City Administrator Ted Wampole said the mayor must approve the authority’s 2019-2023 plan for the authority to receive HUD funding. The plan does address sprinkler systems, but not as quickly as George wants.

“It’s in their plan for 2023. He wants to see it moved up to 2019,” Wampole said.

Wampole said it could cost about $6,000 per apartment to retro-fit a building with fire sprinklers.

“There’s a cost factor, and then there’s a cost-of-life factor,” he said.

Fire Chief Jay Delaney, Deputy Fire Chief Alan Klapat, Fire Captain Robert Suchoski and John Waters, field service coordinator for the National Fire Sprinkler Association, gave a presentation on fire sprinkler systems and retro-fitting them to the authority board on Wednesday.

A film showed two fires set identically — one in a room with a sprinkler system and one in a room without a system — to show the effectiveness of a sprinklers.

“We absolutely know — unequivocally — they save lives, Delaney said, and he believes the lives of Gilroy and Nieves could have been saved if a sprinkler system had been installed at Lincoln Plaza.

Delaney said the authority’s buildings were constructed before 1960, when sprinkler systems became mandatory in new construction, so they are grandfathered under previous fire code.

Delaney, whom George appointed to the authority board with council’s consent last week, said he thought there was some “good dialogue” at the meeting. He would like to see all older high-rise buildings in the city retro-fitted with sprinklers, and he thinks the authority high rises would be a good start.

“I’m not saying the buildings aren’t safe,” Delaney said. “They are safe, but they can be safer.”

Contact the writer:

smocarsky@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV

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