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Portland Fire & Rescue - IN THE NEWS
Daily Journal of Commerce - Oregon
October 1, 2010
By: Aaron Spencer
Portland, OR -- The former Cornelius Hotel at 521 S.W. Park Ave. in downtown Portland is marked with a sign that lets firefighters know to take extra precautions in the case they have to put out a fire at the building.
You may have wondered what is the meaning of those red “U” signs posted on Portland buildings. I had been told the signs mark buildings that are not up to code or otherwise unsafe, but I guessed the buildings were still inhabitable, since I often see people in them.
Turns out the signs are put up by the Portland Fire Marshal to denote buildings that are unsafe for firefighters. The “U” stands for “unsafe.” They started going up about three years ago, said Mike Alderman, special hazards inspector with Portland Fire & Rescue.
Here’s how they work: The fire department has a catalog of all the unsafe buildings that includes details on how the buildings are unsafe. For example, if a warehouse has a lot of cotton or paper products on the second story, firefighters need to know because those materials could absorb water and double the weight of the floor. The catalog also include details about where firefighters can and cannot go in the building, as well as details about which exits are blocked and which parts of the building are structurally unsound.
This catalog is kept in a database that firefighters can access from computers in their trucks, but since they don’t usually have time to check it - fires are emergency situations, after all - they usually get the information from the dispatcher.
So why do firefighters need signs if they have this database? The signs on the buildings are necessary, Alderman said, in cases where firefighters stumble upon a fire. For example, if firefighters get a call or just happen to see a fire without first talking to dispatch, the sign will let them know they need to ask dispatch about the special safety precautions before barging into the building.
Now just because a building has a “U” sign doesn’t mean the building isn’t safe to inhabit. In fact, a building can be 100 percent up to building code but not comply with the fire code. Building owners may not like the “U” on their buildings, but Alderman said they usually understand it’s necessary. Besides, a building owner could always bring his building up to fire code, which would allow him to remove the sign.
And in case you’re curious, here’s a list as of today of the city’s unsafe buildings:
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