In the News

It’s a heart-breaking story that made national headlines and makes me relive a personal tragedy from my childhood.

A fire breaks out at 3 a.m. Christmas Day in Francis Drake Hotel, a 146-room three-story former luxury hotel in downtown Minneapolis being used for temporary housing for the homeless. Within minutes the fire grew, the building was evacuated, and fire crews began their marathon battle against the fire that lasted more than 30 hours.

Quick lifesaving and neighbor-helping-neighbor action prevented deaths, although three people were hospitalized. Over 250 people were displaced; 100 of them children. It hits home with me because way back when I was 13, I lost my best friend to a Christmas day fire caused by the tree catching on fire resulting in the loss of the home and their lives.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined. Fire investigators said the fire started in one unit, but they could not identify a specific cause because damage was too extensive. The roof and third floor of one wing collapsed. The weight of that debris and the water sprayed on the blaze by fire crews put tremendous pressure on the second floor. As a result, the entire building had to be demolished.

The age of the building, built in 1926, had no sprinkler system. The fire caused far more damage than it would have if sprinklers were in place. There were fire extinguishers, but were residents trained to use them?

The case will be studied for years as housing and construction codes, and fire safety and prevention are evaluated. The human factor places even more urgency on the case.

Lessons Learned

The rationale “It will never happen to me” is classic denial and not an effective fire and loss prevention or risk management strategy in multi-family housing. Instead, we must learn from fires to save lives, time, money, stress, and less disruptions to residents. Most of the lessons we learn from the Drake Hotel fire focus on sprinkler systems.

  • While older multi-family buildings might not require that sprinklers be installed, it’s smart for commercial property owners to consider installing them to prevent more damage and expense if a fire does occur.
  • Up-to-date sprinkler systems are the most cost-effective way to protect your business and your residents. It’s often more costly to replace parts and rebuild sections of buildings than to install sprinkler systems.
  • Damage from fires can be made even worse by the efforts of fire departments to put out fires. Sprinklers prevent most of this additional damage.
  • Training programs to teach residents how to use fire extinguishers are crucial since this basic tool is the first line of defense in a fire.

A last word on fire safety: According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoke is the #1 cause of loss of life in a fire—accounting for up to 80 percent of fire deaths. It’s a sobering statistic and should be a vital motivator when planning fire prevention strategy.

I encourage owners and property managers of older multi-family housing to contact Brothers Fire & Security about the feasibility of installing or updating sprinkler systems. We’ll evaluate your building and develop a plan to help ensure your property won’t end up as a cautionary tale that became harsh reality.

About Brothers Fire & Security

As one of the premier providers of fire and security solutions in the Upper Midwest, Brothers Fire & Security strives to build long-term, value-added relationships. We work with business owners and property management companies, as well as all types of public institutions to solve fire and security needs. By taking advantage of our integrated bundled services, many of our clients find that they can save 25-30% on their safety services, annual inspections and more. From a single location to franchises throughout the region and the country, our integrated approach saves our clients valuable time, money and stress. We provide fire protection systems, security systems, fire sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, 24-7 monitoring, fire extinguishers, card access and kitchen hoods.