Sunday, January 5, 2014
But this does render a discussion on the issue on the idea of capitulating on a build and design that smart heads should rule and reign in any design or element that could ultimately lead to the builds failure.
I miss construction more and more every day and I read this and wonder if I do. This is more about a systemic problem with regards to the issue of money and fame and the ability of those in positions of authority and power to turn a blind eye and the failure of our municipalities to hire and demand accountability.
That jail cell should frankly be larger.
Architect’s Sentence in Death of Firefighter Angers Fire Crews
By IAN LOVETT
Published: January 3, 2014
LOS ANGELES — The blaze broke out in an opulent new Hollywood Hills home that was scheduled to be the set for a television series, “Germany’s Next Top Model,” just a few days later. Flames escaped from a fireplace — designed for outdoor use, but installed indoors in violation of the fire code on the home’s top floor by Gerhard Albert Becker, a wealthy German architect.
Mr. Becker, who built the home and had recently moved in, fled with his girlfriend on that night in February 2011. By the time firefighters arrived, the entire attic was engulfed in flames.
Working frantically to break through the ceiling and extinguish the blaze, firefighters heard a loud crack. The roof collapsed on top of them, seriously injuring several firefighters and killing Glenn Allen, 61, a veteran of 36 years with the Los Angeles Fire Department.
On Friday, Mr. Becker, 49, pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to one year in jail. He is likely to serve six months, far less than the maximum of four years that prosecutors had sought, and will be deported to Germany upon his release.
The sentence outraged Los Angeles firefighters, who are bearing the personal cost of a disregard for safety regulations, said Kevin Mulvehill, a former Los Angeles fire captain who was in charge of Mr. Allen’s company the night of the fire. He said they had hoped a tougher sentence would send a message to contractors and homeowners.
“I take it very personally that he can walk under some technicality,” said Mr. Mulvehill, who was in court along with about 30 firefighters in uniform, asking for the maximum sentence. “It sends the wrong message to contractors that they can get away with shoddy construction, make their money and move on.”
At the sentencing, Judge Robert Perry of Superior Court said he was concerned that responsibility for the fire could be shared, because safety inspectors had failed to find the illegally installed fireplaces.
Mr. Becker’s lawyer, Donald Re, declined to comment about the case, saying only that he believed the sentence was appropriate.
A resident of Mallorca, Spain, Mr. Becker was an architect and contractor of luxury homes around the world. The Hollywood Hills house was his first project in the United States, and he hoped to market it for television and film production. He stood to make $100,000 for the six-week shoot of “Germany’s Next Top Model,” according to the prosecutors.
Prosecutions of architects in house fires are rare. But Sean Carney, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, said Mr. Becker not only installed four fireplaces, but also repeatedly misled safety inspectors.
In an email to his real estate agent after the fire, Mr. Becker wrote that he had removed sprinklers from the balconies after the final inspection when the house was built, according to court documents shared with The New York Times by prosecutors.
“When you had seen the house in February, I had deinstalled it after the final of the house,” he wrote.
Mr. Carney said, “The whole issue with this guy’s construction was that he was so incredibly arrogant, he hated that building and safety inspectors had any say.”
Firefighters had other factors working against them the night of the fire. Because of city budget cuts, the firefighter company that was closest to Mr. Becker’s house, and would normally have responded to the fire, had been closed.
“It was a perfect storm, with the budget cuts and an architect who cut corners, and ultimately one of our firefighters paid the price,” said Frank Lima, the president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City-I.A.F.F. Local 112. “This is one of the most dangerous professions. We want to go in there aggressively to save lives, but we expect things to be built right.”
Two other fire companies were already at the house when Mr. Allen, 61, and his company arrived. They worked to break through walls and helped extinguish some of the fire. But in part because of the height of the ceiling, they had trouble breaking through it to the top floor, where the flames were concentrated.
Just as the firefighters began to make headway, the roof gave in. Hundreds of pounds of material collapsed onto them. Mr. Allen was pinned underneath, along with several others. He died two days later.
Mr. Mulvehill, who has since retired, said many of the firefighters continue to suffer physically and emotionally from their injuries that night.
“Some still have some traumatic effects, memory loss, ongoing neck pain; some have nightmares,” he said. “This is going to be an ongoing thing for all of us.”
Mr. Carney said that, even once the fireplaces had been installed, Mr. Becker also failed to install fire stops, which could have slowed the spread of the fire by at least an hour.
About 450 firefighters, their families and other members of the community wrote to the judge, asking him to give Mr. Becker the maximum sentence, according to Mr. Lima, who helped organize the campaign.
Mr. Allen’s widow, Melanie K. Allen, read a statement in court before the sentencing. She spoke of Mr. Allen’s excitement at the news that he was expecting a grandson.
“So many, many people’s lives have been touched with tragedy because of what appears to have been a conscious and deliberate choice to violate the rules,” she said.