Houston, TX – Twelve people were killed and 74 others injured after a massive fire broke out in a high-rise apartment building in London on Tuesday.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
After seeing the devastating images of the building up in flames, Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena called a news conference on Wednesday to discuss what would happen if a fire like that broke out in Houston.
“It’s really heartbreaking to see images of people in the upper floors unable to evacuate. We empathize with the firefighters as well, with their inability to gain access,” said Pena.
It’s a challenge Houston firefighters faced 16 years ago when they battled a fire in the 40-story Four Leaf Towers building near the Galleria.
Two people died in the six-alarm fire, including HFD Captain Jay Jahke.
As a result, the department streamlined its training and protocol when responding to high-rise fires.
“If we’re going to evacuate, we’re going to evacuate the fire floor, the floor immediately above, and the floor immediately below the fire,” said Pena.
He said unless residents are impacted by smoke, everyone else should stay where they are and wait for further instructions from authorities.
After the Four Leaf Towers fire, the City also passed a new ordinance requiring all high-rises to have sprinkler systems.
The only exceptions are high-rises with individually owned units, like condos. In those situations, the common areas must have sprinklers.
Owners have until December 31, 2017 to comply.
Starting this year, Houston is also rolling out a new system to make sure high risk buildings are up to code. That means structures like high-rises, hospitals, and assisted living facilities will be inspected every year.
However, fire officials say people who live and work in tall buildings must also do their part to recognize warning systems and know evacuation routes.
“Once the incident happens, if you’re woken up in the middle of the night with an alarm system going off and a voice saying you need to evacuate, that’s not the time to start learning the layout of your building,” said Pena.