Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When the doors open, if it's hot, don't get out.

Tuesday Night Fire, Take 2
[In high rise elevator]

Tim Kizminski: How are we supposed to know if the floor is on fire in one of these?

Lt. Steven McCaffrey: When the doors open, if it's hot, don't get out.

Backdraft 1991

Do you remember Backdraft? Came out in the early 90's, starring Kurt Russell, one of the Baldwin boys, Jason Gedrick, and good ol' Robert De Niro. All of them are fire fighters of sordid experience, playing with Old Man Fire in Chicago. Little Billy Baldwin and Gedrick are probies. You know, the FNGs. Fresh out of fire fighter training and eager to fit in. It's a feel good coming of age story. Or something.

Anyway, there's a scene where Gedrick (Kizminski) and Russell (McCaffrey) are riding up an elevator handling a fire call out. Kizminski's nervous. I recall this being his first real run. I recall that quote above very distinctly. It's pragmatic and soberingly snarky. Something you'd expect from a master teaching a young student. A firefighter's koan if ever there was one.

This scene popped into my mind last Thursday as I was reading a notice from the City of Austin after it was prominently stapled to the front door of the Hostel. Err, I mean the warehouse. Rather, the building where our studio coop is.

"... tenants have until July 16th to vacate the premises ..."

"... unsafe conditions ..."

"... condemned ..."

Whiskey-tango-foxtrot. Ground control, we have a problem.

So, good for us, we don't own the building. We're just a tenant. Bad for us, we're just a tenant and we no longer have a studio. In my faux shock and awe ("I'm shocked! SHOCKED I say!") I continued to read through the three pages of violations that the landlord was being charged with. In no particular order (and the ones I could remember) are:

  • No sprinkler system

  • Wrong zoning (zoned warehouse, instead used for multi-use tenant)

  • Dead end hallways leading to entrapment condition during fire

  • Lack of inside lighting

  • Improper building materials used indoors (fire retardant ones)

  • Improper hallway sizes for emergency egress

  • Improperly built stairways

  • Illegally built stairways

  • Electrical system not up to code

  • Insufficient exit signage

  • Additions to the building without a permit ... both minor (walls) and major (whole additions to the building)

  • No certificate of occupancy for any of the tenants

  • and last, but not least, ignoring multiple court orders to close the warehouse down

Yeah. No shit. Who knew it was a fire trap? I'm shocked, SHOCKED I say! Honestly, I'm really not surprised. The fire marshall came a few weeks back to do his inspection. This means someone got pissed at the landlord at some point in recent history and reported him.

I feel sad, really. As many warts as that place has, I had some good times and some good shoots there. I feel sorry for some of the other tenants. One lady put in $25k worth of improvements to her place there. The guys at the Hookah shop had only been there about two months I guess. Another photographer had just moved in the week before and prepaid three months of his rent.

Rumor has it an angel investor has come in wanting to take over the place. They say they have good relations with the fire marshall, city council, and the mayor's office. They own a few other properties in Austin and are willing to get things fixed and right.

But, only if the current tenants stay.

What a quandry.

The tenants met Friday night to discuss their options. They're investigating a lawsuit for return of all back rent and deposits because the landlord made the contracts under false pretenses. At a minimum, it was illegal for him to lease out the place without getting it rezoned for multi-tenant use and getting certificate of occupancies.

We looked at a new place on Sunday. All seven of us met there after the Austin Strobist meetup. At first glance, this place would be an absolute dream. Sadly, it's too much. The owner of this property was willing to cut us a deal for the first two months, but even with that, we're still talking over three grand once you include deposits, utilities, and first month's rent. I knew it would be too much for us when I walked in. Going from a one room studio with a community restroom to a four room plus storage and a private restroom is just too much for us at this point. Especially with the economy still in the dumps. But man, it would have been a dream.

Realistically, we need a slightly larger studio with an additional room for prop storage. We'll find something, I just don't know when.

In the end I'm kind of glad to be out of the fire trap. While it worked as a good studio in a central location, it just didn't look all that professional walking into the building. It's a warehouse, plain and simple.

I'm just glad to know what to do in case of a fire: when the doors open, if it's hot, don't get out.

The photo up top is of Adam. He's one of the local fire spinners here in Austin. He's whipping flaming poi around his body to the sound of music swimming out of his iPod. You can see the body's silhouette amidst the flames.