May 10, 2017 | By: Mal Meyer

Grand Rapids Considers Changes To Apartment Fire Codes After Fatality

A young woman hurt in a Grand Rapids apartment fire later died from her injuries. The preliminary investigation revealed that the apartment she was living in likely did not have proper fire safety measures.

On April 11th, the Grand Rapids Fire Department responded to an apartment fire on the 500 block of 3rd Avenue. Wendy Vraa, 31, was seriously burned and taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, where she died three days later.

Fire Chief Mike Liebel told Lakeland News that the fire appeared to have started in the basement. Liebel said there were no sprinklers in the building and he was unsure if there were any smoke detectors inside. The state fire marshal’s office says it continues to investigate the cause of the fire.

The city is considering if changes need to be taken to rental codes and inspection procedures to hopefully prevent something like this happening again. Currently, the city only inspects a building if the tenant files a complaint.

“Other than that, we have a building code but that doesn’t involve an annual inspection or anything. A rental code and a rental inspection program is different,” says Rick Blake, a city councilor.

It’s an issue that the city council took up as an ‘Outcome Goal‘ in 2016. Councilor Rick Blake says that a preliminary task force went to other communities to collect data about their rental codes.

“[They were] comparing how the budget would work, how many rental units they have, how much they charge, how often the inspections occur.”

The issue has now carried into 2017, where they’ll look at the necessity and possible implementation of a similar program in Grand Rapids.

“We want community members to feel safe in their home, and that’s why we will hopefully be forming the task force to go out and see what the need is,” says Tasha Connelly, a city councilor.

During Monday night’s council work session, they discussed who would be a part of the task force.

“Do you think it makes sense Tom, to have someone from the planning commission on there?” asked Chad Sterle, the city attorney.

“Well, the planning commission doesn’t regulate building code,” replied Tom Pagel, the city administrator.

The council agree to look for landlords with various amount of units, representatives with the housing redevelopment authorities in the city and county, and other affected by a potential ordinance. They would also have chances for public input.

“I would just encourage citizens to look for that, to know that it is their right to be heard,” said Councilor Connelly.

At the end of the session, the council agreed to put out a public notice for task force applicants.

“I like the make-up [of the task force], I like the timeline. I’m supportive of going forward for at least looking at this,” said City Councilor Dale Christy.

The council hopes to have candidates interview and selected by their June 12th meeting. They have tentatively scheduled to have a feasibility report and recommendation by August 31st.

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