‘They deserve respect’: Union leaders call for accountability after deadly SouthPark fire

CHARLOTTE — A day after the Charlotte Fire Department revealed code violations at the site of a deadly fire in the SouthPark area, leaders with two local unions are calling for companies to take more responsibility at job sites.

CFD said there were two critical issues at the job site where two construction workers were killed in a fire that happened mid-May. The apartment building site didn’t have a proper standpipe to provide water access at every floor, and nobody contacted the fire marshal’s office once the building rose above 40 feet in height. Both of those issues violated North Carolina state code.

Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz spoke to the Charlotte Firefighters Association and the Charlotte Metrolina Labor Council on Thursday. Representatives with both of the unions say the companies need to be held accountable.

When the six-story building burned three weeks ago in SouthPark, Mike Feneis was immediately concerned about his colleagues fighting it and the people trapped inside. Feneis is the secretary of Charlotte Firefighters Local 660, and he says the city’s rapid growth comes with concern: if builders and contractors don’t keep up with fire codes, first responders and civilian workers are put at risk.

“You know, fire codes are there for a reason, and a lot of times a code is developed from a tragedy,” Feneis told Goetz. “So they need to be followed. And again, how do we penalize them? [That’s a] discussion we need to have.”

Feneis said one of the two violations may have led to the blaze quickly spreading. Without a proper standpipe, firefighters couldn’t get access to hose connections throughout the entire site.

“Without a standpipe, you can see the fire growth was just a lot in a short amount of time,” Feneis said. “As far as them not talking to the fire department, again, crazy. You know, if they had any questions ... inspectors could have answered it, and maybe this all could have been avoided, or not to the scale that it was.”

Feneis says there needs to be a discussion on how to ensure companies comply with state codes.

That’s also a question Ashley Hawkins with the Charlotte Metrolina Labor Council is asking.

“They deserve the respect of their codes being followed in our city; for not only the civilians who are working on these job sites but for the firefighters who might have to run into those job sites and save lives,” Hawkins said.


Hawkins wants to see more action taken against companies that violate state codes.

“One of the things I would like to see in North Carolina is steeper fines for contractors when workplace fatalities take place due to negligence,” Hawkins said.

Goetz reached out to Mill Creek, the general contractor behind the SouthPark construction project, and received a statement on Thursday.

Mill Creek said in its statement: “We grieve with everyone affected by this tragic event. We are actively investigating the circumstances that led to the fire, and are cooperating with state and local authorities in their investigation. As this is an ongoing investigation, we can’t comment further at this time.”

The fire was reportedly caused by a piece of spray foam insulation equipment, according to the fire department, but the deadly fire is still under investigation.

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Hannah Goetz

Hannah Goetz, wsoctv.com

Hannah is a reporter for WSOC-TV.