Report: Dakota smoke alarm failed to activate

The smoke detector failed to go off in the Dakota room where a clothes dryer caught fire Sept. 10, causing $340,000 in property damages, an investigation completed this week found.

An “undetermined failure” in the dryer’s heating system ignited the fire that sent one student to GW Hospital for smoke inhalation and prompted more than 50 students to relocate for almost a week, according to the D.C. Fire and EMS report.

Junior Justin Solar, one of the room’s residents who first saw the fire, told fire officials that day that he was in his fifth-floor room when dark smoke started pouring out of the dryer.

“He then closed the bedroom doors and exited the apartment. He stated that the smoke detector did not alert,” according to the report.

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The report deemed the fire accidental.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said a system panel in the building showed that all emergency systems, including smoke detectors, fire alarms and sprinklers, were able to activate and function properly.

“Smoke detectors are tested annually, and health and safety inspectors check residential rooms four times a year,” she said. “The incident is still under investigation.”

If a smoke detector is out of order, a property owner is considered in violation of D.C.’s fire code, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs spokesman Helder Gil said.

He added that the smoke may not have been strong enough to trigger the smoke alarm, which is about 10 to 15 feet away from the room’s dryer.

But one out-of-order smoke alarm “is not an egregious violation,” said Bruce Faust, deputy fire chief and fire marshal at D.C. Fire and EMS. He said if the entire system failed, or if a fire exit was blocked, GW would face an immediate fine.

Faust said in this case, city inspectors would check out the faulty detector, but he said he did not know whether they had visited The Dakota yet.

“We have 20,000 buildings in this city to inspect and 30 inspectors to do it,” Faust said.

Another resident who was interviewed “stated that the dryer needed to be run several cycles in order to dry clothing,” according to the report.

Damage to the building was “minor,” according to the report, which indicated $10,000 worth of belongings in addition to the property damages. The sprinkler system, which also soaked rooms on lower floors of the building, helped control most of the fire.

When fire officials investigated room 501, “a pile of partially burned clothing was found in [the] kitchen with melted distorted plastic dispersed throughout the pile, and a dryer was located on the floor of the apartment hallway, which had obviously been removed from the laundry closet.”

The fire department responded to the call in under three minutes.

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