‘I Am Saddened to Hear This. I Can’t Defend Their Actions.’

Eric Risberg / AP File Photo

Eric Risberg / AP File Photo Some artwork remains on the wall of a warehouse that caught fire Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Oakland, Calif.

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Oakland’s acting fire chief pledges inquiry into new revelations about the role firefighters may have played in failing to report safety hazards at the site where 36 people died in December.

In the aftermath of the tragic “Ghost Ship” warehouse party fire in Oakland, California, that killed 36 people in December, one of the biggest questions circling around the investigation has been: What did the city know about the converted warehouse space before the fire consumed the death trap?

The East Bay Times on Sunday published an eye-popping report that says that, according to documents and multiple attendees, some Oakland firefighters had previously toured the warehouse space and even hung out at a private party at “Ghost Ship,” as the space was often referred to, in September 2014.

Even though the fire-safety hazards at the illegally converted warehouse—including makeshift artist lofts and a cluttered warren of passageways constructed of combustible materials—were self-evident, the firefighters apparently did nothing to report them.

As Oakland’s acting fire chief, Mark Hoffmann, said, responding to the East Bay Times report: “I am saddened to hear this. I can’t defend their actions.”

The newspaper continues:

Hoffmann said, if true, the firefighters should have initiated an immediate investigation of the warehouse because the party was “direct evidence of misuse of the property.” The firefighters were “being negligent by not responding properly” and “ignoring telltale signs of danger,”  which could lead them to be demoted or fired, he said.

Robert Rowe, a retired city of Downey fire marshal in Los Angeles County who is now a fire consultant, agreed with Hoffmann’s assessment. Firefighters “are the eyes of the department,” he said. He would expect an immediate call to the city fire marshal with firefighters remaining on scene until an inspector arrived. That they didn’t is “a problem that obviously needs to change,” he said.

Hoffmann said the department is launching an investigation into the matter.

The Ghost Ship fire has shined an uncomfortable light on the city of Oakland and its “broken” fire inspection system.

“I couldn’t work in a situation where people’s lives were constantly being put in danger because of the broken system,” a whistleblower told the East Bay Times in January.

In March, the city government shared its preliminary report into the fire with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, which has launched a criminal investigation into the blaze.