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Marshall Square Retirement Community, Evans, GA
Date: June 2, 2015
Project Description:  3 story, 134-unit, wood framed senior residential.
Building Status:  Completed in December 2014, with 80 occupants.

Summary of fire event: The fire broke out at 3:22 a.m., said Chief Jeremy Wallen with Columbia County Fire Rescue, and less than 3 hours later had destroyed most of the central part of the multistory complex and was spreading into the eastern wing, according to the newspaper (Augusta Chronicle).

The blaze displaced more than 80 residents and killed one elderly woman who was trapped in her third-floor apartment. County, state and federal officials are investigating the cause of the fire and how the woman died.

The three-story retirement community was built using wood framing, instead of a steel frame. Columbia County Deputy Fire Marshal Jerry Baldwin also confirmed this week that the fire sprinkler system consisted of PVC pipes instead of metal pipes, although the sprinklers were active inside the building and at some point were functioning.
While both the wood framing and sprinkler system are permitted under the building codes, local media reports that many local citizens are now asking whether the codes should be changed as a result of this horrific fire.

Columbia County building official Paul Scarbary, stated that the building was design to current requirements of the IBC, and had two hour fire walls between the residential wings and core of the building where the common rooms are located. Because this was a retirement community, not a nursing home, it is treated like any other apartment complex and had no special safety requirements.

When asked by a WRDW/News12 reporter if this would change how other buildings are built, he responded "There's always hope that we can learn something from this that would give us a better perspective as to what down the road may need to be changed or may need to be looked at more closely.”

Paul Bilodeau, whose mother was a resident of Marshall Square, said in his opinion everyone would have made it out alive if they had evacuated when the fire alarms first went off. He’s also concerned about building standards for such retirement communities and whether the codes are strict enough.  “If these buildings and others are being built to apartment standards, can’t we ask our legislators to take a look and protect our elderly?” He said. “If you are going to market something as a retirement apartment can’t we legally, and I don’t know the answer, enact more stringent codes for fire safety, shouldn’t we address that?”

Links:       http://metrospirit.com/tragedy-at-marshall-square/#cville-single-comments