Report: Millennium Tower Could Pose Fire Hazard
San Francisco’s Millennium Tower, which has sunk and tilted several inches and is the current hub of a number of lawsuits, could be less safe than originally reported, with key information redacted in a report given to one resident.
The structure’s sinking and settling has led to gaps forming in the walls, and in a 2016 investigation, the tower’s housing association hired firm Allana, Buick and Bers to inspect resident Paula Pretlow’s unit, as she and several other residents had complained of “unexplained odors permeating their luxury units," reported the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.
To investigate this concern, holes were burrowed through the walls of Pretlow’s unit, with smoke bombs set off below. What resulted was smoke coming up through holes surrounding pipes and ducts.
According to Business Insider, these gaps are normally filled with fire-resistant caulking, which would help prevent a fire on one floor from spreading to another. While sprinklers should sufficiently contain fires that occur in high rises, unsealed floor openings could be problematic in allowing a fire to get up to the next floor, or cause smoke damage.
At the time, the consultants warned that the openings represented a breach in the fire and smoke barrier of the building, which poses a hazard to residents. If a fire were to occur, flames could jump floors through the gaps.
Those findings, according to NBC Bay Area, had been omitted from the housing associaton's report.
According to reports, Pretlow fought for a year to acquire the redacted findings, which had been blacked out in the original version of the document given to her.
“This building is not as safe as we’ve all been led to believe,” Pretlow told NBC Bay Area.
The building resident has since made another complaint to the fire department, which was confirmed by fire department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter. He declined to comment further on the issue, however.
According to geotechnical expert Larry Karp, the building’s uneven settlement could dislodge lightweight curtain walls, which also poses its own fire risk. “The fact that they are coming apart is inevitable, it’s just a matter of time. It’s going to get worse,” Karp added.
San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin told NBC Bay Area that the city needs to get to the root of what is happening with the Millennium Tower, emphasizing that the city’s Department of Building Inspection should be pushing to verify what was listed in the report.
“Not only do all the condo owners have the right to have that information,” Peskin said, “but the city should have that information, so we can impose the kind of fixes that have to be imposed.”
The fire marshal was set to make a new inspection of the building in late December, reported The Architects Newspaper.
An attorney representing the homeowner’s association issued a statement detailing that several facade panels had been removed so that engineers could inspect the underlying infrastructure.
In response to the Millennium Tower’s ongoing issues, the city and county Department of Building Inspection recently released guidelines for design review for buildings that are 240 feet or taller.
According to Engineering News-Record, the guidelines require an additional member or two for a building’s peer-review panel. These members can either be a state-registered geotechnical engineer or a civil engineer with proven geotechnical experience. Projects located in at-risk areas—where the soil is subject to liquefaction or is in a seismic zone—would require an additional geotechnical engineer on the team.