State Fire Marshal report: Sprinklers could’ve saved 5 people killed in 2019 Minneapolis high-rise fire

A new report from Minnesota’s State Fire Marshal Division says fire sprinklers could’ve saved the lives of those killed in a November 2019 high-rise fire in Minneapolis.

"It’s a bold statement, but it’s a very accurate statement," said State Fire Marshal Jim Smith. "We know through our experiences that sprinkler systems put fires out."

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division (DPS-SFMD) released the report, which details findings and recommendations from the fire. After-action reports are completed after every multiple-fatality or high dollar-loss fire to help identify factors that led to deaths and injuries and determine how to prevent such tragedies in the future.

‘Very tragic night’: 5 dead, 3 hospitalized after Minneapolis high-rise apartment fire

"This tragic loss of life could have been prevented. The victims would still be alive had there been sprinklers throughout that entire building," Smith said. "We owe it to the victims and their families to learn from this fire so we can prevent similar tragedies."

Firefighters were called just before 4 a.m. on Nov. 27, 2019, to the high-rise located at 630 Cedar Avenue South. When firefighters arrived, they found the fire on the 14th floor of the building.

Five people died in the fire and several others were injured.

The report said residents and firefighters found dangerous fire conditions, with a lack of redundant features in the building to protect residents in case a single safety element failed.

Push for fire sprinklers in Minneapolis high-rise where fire killed 5 people

In the report, DPS-SFMD also urged all residential building owners to stop propping fire doors open or placing objects in the path of a door to prevent it from closing in a fire. Other recommendations include encouraging fire separations for existing "scissor stairs" to form independent stair enclosures to provide at least two distinct paths of escape.

"Anybody opening any doors, at the fire level or above, are going to allow smoke to get into that stairwell on both sides," Smith said, which the report explains may have stopped people from the upper levels from making it to the ground floor.

According to the report, there have been 65 documented fire sprinkler saves in Minnesota high-rise buildings from 2004 through 2019. Of those, 56 have been in apartment buildings and 63 of the fires have been controlled by one or two sprinklers. The report states the Nov. 27, 2019 high-rise fire likely would’ve been controlled with one or two sprinklers, too, had the building had them.

The building is owned and operated by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.

In a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, an MPHA spokesperson said the organization is studying the report from the state.

The 25-story, 200-unit apartment building was built in 1970 and wasn’t required to have a sprinkler system or even retrofit the structure to meet current fire protection standards.

"In-unit fire-sprinkler systems remain a top priority within MPHA’s capital improvement budget," the statement said. "MPHA is currently following a plan to complete sprinkler installation in all high-rise buildings within 10 years, given sufficient funding."