Wilson under watch, awaiting fire safety repairs

Max Karp and Elie Salem

The DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department put Wilson under “firewatch” on December 8 after the Fire Inspector found that the fire alarm control panel and fire alarms were not functioning. The Department of General Services (DGS) made the necessary repairs to the fire alarm control panel on January 9, though other minor replacements remain uncompleted.

When fire alarms are not functioning, the Fire Department institutes a “firewatch,” replacing the detection hardware of machinery with the eyes and ears of trained personnel. At Wilson, one or two contractors are assigned to each floor, wearing yellow jackets and ready to act in case of an emergency.

“[Contractors] survey the floor to make sure there is no smoke, no remnants of a fire or the starting of a fire,” said Manager of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall. “If the individual smells smoke or sees a fire they immediately call 911. They are dispatched here 24 hours a day.”

The firewatch was instituted because Wilson’s fire alarm control panel, a device that supplies power to all fire alarms in the building, had run out of battery. “The power supply pack was out. It was shot. So no power was reaching the fire alarm system to sound the alarms,” Hall said.    

The fire alarms were broken from December 8 at the latest, when the problem was found during a fire drill, to January 9, when DGS repaired them. The fire alarms could also have been broken for the entire month of November, when no firewatch was instituted, because the alarms are only checked at the beginning of each month.

Nevertheless, the immediate danger passed. Firewatch personnel told The Beacon that the repairs are finished, but that they want to continue to monitor the situation.

According to Hall, the only remaining broken item is the dialer, which automatically contacts the fire department in the case of an emergency.

Fire Marshall Tony Falwell insists that Wilson remains safe throughout the firewatch and that firewatches are quite common throughout the District when fire safety repairs need to be done.

Fire Inspector Beatrix Diggs canceled the fire drill that was scheduled to occur on January 10 and is rescheduling it for some point later in the month.

Falwell did not give an exact timeline for when the firewatch would end, but said it will be finished soon.