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Residents: Apartments destroyed by water damage from recent Reno Fire response

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A fire on Oct. 3 in a single unit at 1200 Riverside Drive was sure to cause damage to some of the 11-story building. But residents in the tower say the response by the Reno Fire Department left more water damage than damage from the fire. 

Three local TV stations – channels two, four and eight – reported that the fire left one apartment destroyed and caused some water damage to possibly two apartments because of the fire sprinkler system. 

What has been reported by building residents, however, is that all but one of the units of the building sustained water damage due to the fire department’s extinguishing practices. 

Ronda Theisen, who lives at the property and is the president of the Community Association of 1200 Riverside Drive, told part of the story during public comment at the Reno City Council meeting on Oct. 28. 

“The bullet point is that RFD’s fire suppression efforts will cost my community somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or 30 times the cost of the fire damage and displace far more residents than one would reasonably expect,” she said. “In cost – multi-millions — and residences damaged or destroyed, this catastrophic event is equivalent, in my view, to the Pinehaven fire, but with no attendant concern evident from the City of Reno.”

Theisen requested a report from the Reno Fire Department after the fire but didn’t receive it until after addressing the City Council on Oct. 28. The 17-page report makes little mention of the extensive water damage to the building. 

“It is easy to understand smoke and water damage to surrounding apartments, but 11 floors of damage?”

The report also contradicts itself in terms of how many personnel and units responded to the fire.

The fire occurred on the 11th floor in the kitchen of unit 1273 when something caught on fire on the stove top. The resident tried to smother the fire with a rug, and when the rug caught fire, they used a fire extinguisher which was unsuccessful in putting out the fire, according to RFD’s report.. 

The apartment complex at 1200 Riverside Drive consists of two, 11-story buildings that are divided into two towers with separate entrances. Each tower contains 25 apartment units on floors three to 11 and parking garages on the first two floors. 

Reno firefighters in the parking garage at 1200 Riverside Drive following a fire on the 11th floor of the building. Extensive water damage to the building affected the majority of the building’s units. Image: Provided by Ronda Theisen.

One the night of the fire, Theisen said RFD arrived but their ladder and hose truck were only able to reach the eighth floor. The firefighters didn’t use the closest hydrant, located on Jones Street, nor the water standpipes on the building, according to Theisen.

Instead, firefighters used the standpipes on the other tower, some of which blew out due to the pressurization needed to reach the top floor, Theisen said.

She also said the complex’s fire alarm system now needs to be replaced, and due to supply chain issues they have not been able to get modules to make the repairs. Residents are living without a working alarm system. 

Many residents of the complex are elderly women in their 70s, 80s and 90s, Theisen said, and they are now dealing with their elevators being out of order due to the fire and resulting water damage. During the fire, the water from the hoses flowed down the elevator shafts and reached all the way to the parking garage on the ground floor. 

Reno Fire Chief Dave Cochran said the apartment building’s elevator is “a natural causeway.”

“You can’t block it and water will find the lowest point, and the elevator shaft in any building is one of those routes where water is gonna naturally drain to,” he said. 

Damage to the elevatory landing on the 11th floor of 1200 Riverside Drive where a fire and the resulting supression efforts caused damage to most of the building’s units. Image: Provided by Ronda Theisen.

“After fire was extinguished and salvage and overhaul began, status of floor conditions was reported: 11 floor-heavy fire damage contained to #1273, smoke and water damage to #1274; 10 floor-#1270 heavy water damage, #1271 moderate water damage, #1272 minor water damage; 9 floor #1267 heavy water damage/front door damage, #1268 minor water damage, #1269 minor water damage; 8th floor #1264 moderate water damage, #1265 minor water damage, #1266 minor water damage; 7th floor #1261 entry not made, #1262 moderate water damage, #1263 moderate water damage. No ohter floor by floor inpsections [sic] made below 7th floor,” the RFD report notes.

The elevators in the affected tower will not be repaired until April or May of 2023 according to Theisen, at a cost of around $375,000.

Theisen, who lives five floors below where the fire took place, had eight industrial fans blowing day and night for two weeks to dry the area.  

“The question I have, which I can’t get an answer to, is whether that amount of destruction was inevitable,” Theisen said. “A fire limited to one apartment, with an estimated damage of under $200,000, ended up with damage to 23 additional units with repair costs probably 20 times (or more) as much for the condominium common areas and individual units. 

“It is easy to understand smoke and water damage to surrounding apartments, but 11 floors of damage?”

Cochran said a complete survey of water damage isn’t included in the report because “that’s not something we typically report on.”

“We use water to put the fire out so that’s kind of a natural consequence of our response. This response was normal in that respect. 

“It’s not just the water that we apply, it’s also the sprinkler system in the building,” he added. “The sprinkler system operated as designed and the other part of that is you have a 12 story building. When it’s activated, you now [have] filled the whole system with water. So even when the fire’s out and you shut the system down, the whole system has to drain so that could have led to additional water damage.”

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Mark Hernandez
Mark Hernandez
Mark was born in Mexico, grew up in Carson City, and has recently returned to Reno to continue to explore and get to know the city again. He got his journalism degree in 2018 and wants to continue learning photography for both business and pleasure. Languages and history are topics he likes to discuss as well as deplete any coffee reservoirs in close proximity.

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