100 Residents Evacuated, 1 Killed in Pittsburgh High-Rise Apartment Fire

May 17, 2017

A high-rise apartment fire early Monday took the life of a woman and left dozens looking for temporary shelter, authorities said.

Investigators were investigating the cause of the blaze that forced more than 100 residents to be evacuated from Midtown Towers, a 17-story downtown building with apartments on its upper floors and a convenience store on its ground floor.

The Allegheny County medical examiner’s office said 75-year-old Mary Robinson died in the fire.

The fire was reported just after 3 a.m. in a sixth-floor unit. Fire Chief Darryl Jones said residents on that floor, as well as those one floor below and two floors above, were evacuated while others were told to shelter in place. Two firefighters had to issue mayday calls, he said. They were aided by specialized rescue teams.

“None of the firefighters were seriously injured,” the chief said. “In fact, a couple of them, after taking a brief break and getting a drink of water, returned to the fight.”

One firefighter was treated for breathing problems and chest pains and taken to a hospital. Another firefighter and at least two residents were treated for smoke-related breathing problems at the scene, city Emergency Medical Services Chief Robert Farrow said.

Some systems in the building, such as water pipes and elevators, were damaged, and the alarm system needed to be retested, so it was unclear when residents would be able to return. Residents on undamaged floors were allowed to pick up belongings and move to temporary quarters.

A light-rail commuter train station across the street from the fire was temporarily closed because of the emergency response, and a street next to the high-rise was closed because of glass and other debris.

Some displaced residents were taken to an office building nearby for warmth as temperatures dropped into the mid-40s.

The building wasn’t equipped with sprinklers, though fire alarms were installed and were working properly, the fire chief said. Buildings that undergo changes in use or a renovation of at least 50 percent are required to be brought up to code, neither of which had occurred for Midtown Towers, officials said.

The building was inspected March 21, 2016, under a program instituted to check whether high-risk occupancies were maintaining fire safety systems under the code in effect at the time of construction, and all required fire safety systems in the structure were found to be working correctly, officials said.

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