New fire threat: People living in storage units

   

SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah Several people's efforts to cut costs apparently reached new lows recently after South Salt Lake police discovered they had set up house inside several storage units.

And while their alleged set up inside the storage units located at 3202 S. Davis Drive was apparently quite elaborate complete with heaters, air conditioners, beds, recliners and electronics the occupants couldn't figure out a rig an indoor plumbing system.

Police said the occupants, who were living inside six different units, were going to the bathroom in bottles. Police said the occupants were found living among that human waste, according to a search warrant made public Thursday in 3rd District Court.

"I realize people are up against hard economic times, but we will evict them," said South Salt Lake police spokesman Gary Keller. "It was just a recipe for disaster. Storage units weren't made to be habitable. They are not designed for that."

Police said they first became suspicious after they were asked to respond to a trespass call there on March 19.

When they returned a day later along with city code enforcement officers and the city fire marshal, they said the property manager told them that she knew there were people living in other units, the search warrant states.

Officers said while investigating, they found several found people illegally living there.

At least one occupant had knocked holes in the walls to allow for movement between units, the search warrant states.

Keller said the living conditions posed both health and safety risks. In one unit, he said officers found a woman locked on the inside. The occupants had set up a system so the units always looked like they were locked, Keller said.

Police also discovered a make-shift bedroom with food, clothing and other living accessories. Three other units also contained make-shift bedrooms constructed with beds, clothing, food, plugged-in televisions, microwaves, recliners, computer workstations, lamps and other accessories, the search warrant stated.

Police also found the human waste was being stored inside bottles.

"They were being very creative, but it was still a hazard," Keller said.
By Janelle Stecklein And Cimaron Neugebauer / The Salt Lake Tribune

   

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Plan and train for unconventional living quarters

   

I wish I could say that I'm surprised by this story, but I'm not.

In addition to being increasingly concerned about people living in otherwise vacant residential buildings, now we must also worry about the risks of people living in improvised structures, self-storage units, commercial/retail properties, and pretty much anywhere else you can imagine.

My own department recently fought a fire in what was once a large "urban" chicken coop (something we're also seeing more of) that was being illegally used as a dwelling unit for several people. Once you add carpet remnants and cast-off furnishings to any wooden structure of any kind, you can have a substantial fire load and a definite life-safety and exposure problem.

This trend brings to mind the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression, the favelas of Brazil, and the shantytowns we often associate with third-world countries. But the problem exists here and now, throughout the United States.

For fire departments, the solutions will sound familiar: constant area familiarization (know your streets, know your buildings, know your communities); pre-incident planning; training for the uncommon incidents (i.e., practice assembling/advancing attack lines that will reach through, around, and beyond your typical structure); continual size-up (including a 360-degree lap of the building whenever possible); and heavy involvement in fire- and building-code enforcement efforts.

Stay safe!
Fire News in Focus / by Adam K. Thiel

   

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