The feared fire hazard

While rhetoric flies and the city's tenuous stance on the permit of a controversial southeast apartment project congeals into seeming permanence, one agency is quietly fretting on the sidelines: the Portland Fire and Rescue Bureau.

Fire officials worry the proposed 81-unit structure — incomplete and wreathed in garish yellow on the corner of SE Division and 37th Ave — could be prone to disaster.

"That's become one of our high-priority targets," Alan Ferschweiler, president of the Portland Firefighter's Association, tells the Mercury.

The project could attract squatters while it lies dormant, officials fear, or fall prey to vandalism. And the fact it's not complete means firefighters battling a blaze could be especially vulnerable.

"There's no sheet rock to protect the firewalls," Ferschweiler said. "We've had a couple instances where buildings have gone up in the middle of construction. It's a very dangerous situation."

So the bureau has taken a rare step, Ferschweiler said. It's developed a response plan for the site — something typically saved for complete buildings.

While construction on the project is stalled, minor activity has continued. Records show the site's fire sprinklers have been scrutinized by the city in recent weeks.

But no one knows when real progress might resume. After a dust up last week, Mayor Charlie Hales said the building's developer, Dennis Sackhoff, will have to wait until April 11 to file for a new permit.

I'm waiting on an official line from the Fire Bureau. Then I'm done writing about this for a while. (I think).

UPDATE, 3:37 pm: The stalled project is at its "most vulnerable state of construction" from a firefighting standpoint, according to the response plan [PDF] the fire department created.

"If this building experiences a fire, expect it to be a fast moving and dynamic incident," the document says.

Fire officials are particularly concerned that the structure abuts other buildings on Division, said bureau Spokesman Rich Chatman. The city has allowed developers to finish installing sprinklers at the site and asked that it be secured with fencing.

"Everyone was concerned about it enough that we said, 'Let's go ahead and map this out,'" Chatman said.