“I was shocked to find that there was no emergency lighting of any sort in the building”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Jim Havard

“Dear PoPville,

My apartment building was affected by the power outage this morning. First time I’ve lost power in 10 years! I was shocked to find that there was no emergency lighting of any sort in the building – no lighted exit signs, absolutely pitch dark in the stairwells, fire alarm lights looked dead, etc. Basically, if you did not have a flash light (or a phone with a flash light), you could not possibly have exited the building. Did some searching online, and couldn’t find anything that would require emergency exit lighting for a large residential building in DC. How can that be?! Am I missing something?”

19 Comment

  • Had a similar issue until our new property management company took charge (K&M property) 202-549-8051 took charge. They wiped that place into shape…stuff we never dreamed of

  • maxwell smart

    yep. major code violations there.

  • If your building’s owner/management isn’t responsive, call the fire marshal and ask for an inspection. They will not reveal that you are the caller.

  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 has chapters on emergency lighting and other safety requirements. I deal with some of this at work, and I remember seeing that hallways need lighting pointing to stairwells, and other exit routes. DCRA seems to implement some, but I’m no expert, and I don’t know applicability to older buildings. See the link below. It may be best to talk to someone at DCRA.

    • Believe it or not, its not an old building. It’s one of those big fancy overpriced buildings in 14th street/U street that has sprung up in the last 10 years.

  • The same story for me – I was really surprised to find it completely pitch dark in my hall, and had no information from the management company. Good thing I have a pretty small 2nd floor hallway that I could *probably* get out of in a fire? Guess that fire marshal will have a few inspections to take care of soon…

  • My advice would be to call DCRA, explain the situation, and ask them to do an inspection of your building.

  • Much better to discover this during a power failure than during a fire emergency.

  • definitely a code violation, and a huge liability for the owner/manager if something happened.

  • I think this may be covered under DCMR 12A Building Code (or Building Code Supplement) but legalese is not my strong suit.

  • Pablo Raw

    I’d say it’s urgent that you contact the management company and start keeping a trail of the conversations. Is there a sprinkler system in your building? is it in working condition? I ask this because maybe other safety systems in the building are also in need of an inspection. In (god forbids) case of a fire, you all will be at higher risk.

    • well, sadly, I know that the sprinkler systems work because they accidentally set them off in a friend’s apartment a couple of years ago.

  • I would call the management company and give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll correct this in a timely way when it’s brought to their attention – they might also be shocked to learn this. Only after they fail to address the problem would I unleash the hounds by calling the fire marshal for an inspection.

    • If they’re shocked to learn this, it’s because they haven’t been keeping up with routine maintenance/inspections. You realized this system was down because it was noticeable in a non-emergency. What else might be out of order? Calling the management company to fix the lights is certainly a first step, but I would absolutely also call an inspector (DCRA?) in case they have also neglected maintenance and inspections on other required safety systems. I’d be surprised if it’s just the lights.

        • Yes, agreed. This isn’t the sort of thing professionals miss by accident – someone decided not to follow code in installing emergency lighting, and that someone has certainly known they were getting away with it all this time. Whether or not it was the property manager’s decision (likely not) is not relevant – get it on record with the city.

  • Here’s the relevant code for new construction: http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/ibc/2012/icod_ibc_2012_10_sec006.htm

    I would expect that in order for this building to pass routine inspection that 90 minute back up power for these lighting systems would be required.

    • DC hasn’t adopted IBC 2012 yet, just adopted 2009 this past summer. But emergency lighting has been in the code for decades.

  • Thanks, everyone. Gives me some talking points. Power is still off, but the emergency power is now working for exit signs, etc. My guess is that the management company had the same major OMGWTF moment this morning that all the residents did. That being said, I’m totally not surprised that they didn’t make sure the emergency systems were working before this. We haven’t lost power in…maybe ever, and – despite that its one of those relatively new overpriced buildings that has sprung up in the last decade – its the type of place that only addresses squeaky wheels. Like me.

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