New details are emerging about the massive fire that erupted at a South City warehouse on Wednesday, including the reason why firefighters may have had such a difficult time getting it under control.
“It's safe to say that the sprinkler systems were ineffective,” said St. Louis City Fire Department Captain Garon Mosby. “Here's the challenge: with sprinklers, what we know professionally is that sprinklers can keep 80% to 90% of the fire in check till the fire department arrives.”
Mosby said materials in the warehouse may have been piled so high that the water couldn't reach where it needed to go.
Isn't the fire department supposed to evaluate the sprinklers? Not in this situation, said Mosby.
“I can go in and inspect it, but I have no authority to cite or enforce the code, that authority was taken from the fire department,” he said.
He claims, in 2013, the fire code inspections were transferred to the city's building division.
Environmental attorney Bob Menees of the Great River Environmental Law Center said paraffin, which is contained in candles, is listed as a toxic chemical by the EPA.
Mosby said the warehouse stored 150,000 candles.
Mosby explained that because the warehouse had finished materials and is not a manufacturer, federal laws like the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and state and local law counterparts did not apply.
Those laws require facilities to report hazardous chemicals to the fire department and allow the fire department to inspect the facilities said Mike O’Connell, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Public Safety and Missouri Emergency Response Commission, which enforces the EPCRA.
Mosby said having the ability to inspect the warehouse premises and receive a list of what is on site would have allowed firefighters an advantage in battling the blaze.
“If you could go into the building knowing everything that's there, that helps you absolutely,” Mosby said. “If we had pulled up today and someone came out with a binder and said here is everything in the building, that would help us tremendously.”
He said city ordinances may need to change so that firefighters have greater access and a better understanding of what chemicals are stored in warehouses.
5 On Your Side reached out to the city's building division to find out when it last inspected the warehouse, but have yet to receive a response.