Seattle Mayor proposes emergency legislation to address fires in vacant buildings

April 29, 2024

Proposal for amending Seattle Fire Code to address increasing fire incidents

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed emergency legislation to amend the Seattle Fire Code, which would empower the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) to order and execute the demolition or remediation of unsafe vacant buildings.

Expressing concerns about community and responder safety, Mayor Harrell stated: “These dangerous vacant buildings are known hazards that put our first responders and the surrounding community at risk.”

The proposal is a response to the rising incidents of fires in these vacant buildings.

Statistics from the SFD show a significant increase in such fires, escalating from 77 in 2021 to 130 in 2023.

Notably, earlier this year, a severe fire in a vacant First Hill apartment required extensive firefighting efforts, displacing nearby residents and disrupting local traffic for weeks.

Proposed legislative measures to enhance safety and responsiveness

The legislation, currently under consideration by the city council, aims to grant the SFD authority to address these derelict structures swiftly.

Fire Chief Harold Scoggins underscored the dangers posed by vacant buildings, saying: “Fire responses to vacant buildings have continued to trend upwards.

When buildings remain derelict, firefighters often observe holes in the floor, missing stairwells, structural instability, and other hazardous conditions.”

If passed, the proposal would mandate property owners to undertake necessary safety measures, with the city authorized to perform abatement work and recover costs through property liens.

Over 40 vacant buildings have been identified as potential targets for this initiative, with expectations to address around 10 properties annually.

Councilmembers advocate for the proposal amid community concerns

The proposal has garnered support from city councilmembers, emphasizing its potential impact on public safety.

Councilmember Bob Kettle expressed strong backing, stating: “This commonsense measure will substantially address the issue of dangerous vacant buildings.

“The inability to demolish these hazards has contributed to our permissive environment – a culture where the government stands by as the most predictable types of accidents or crime happen. It’s time for that to end.”

Councilmember Tammy Morales, representing areas with significant racial and economic disparities, also supported the initiative, highlighting its urgency: “Derelict buildings pose a significant danger and strain to not only our city employees but also the general public,” Morales noted.

She plans to co-sponsor the proposal, stressing its necessity for community safety across all neighborhoods.

FSJA Comment

The proposed amendment to the Seattle Fire Code by Mayor Harrell reflects a proactive approach to addressing the escalating issue of vacant building fires in Seattle.

By proposing to grant the SFD the authority to directly intervene in securing and remedying these properties, the legislation aims to significantly mitigate the risks these buildings pose to public safety.

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