Local Artists React to Oakland Warehouse Fire

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WILLIAMSPORT -- We are learning about more people who were killed in the Oakland artists warehouse fire late Friday at a party inside the studio that was also where people lived.

Inside the Pajama Factory in Williamsport, plenty of artists were saddened by the news.

"It's unfortunate that people die in a fire, what a horrible way to go," Todd Foresman, Way Cool Beans.

"I just feel awful about it. I think something like this could have been preventable," said Debbie Allison.

Debbie and Randy Allison own the homemade pasta shop Pasta by Deb and have been in the warehouse for the past year and a half.

In the case of the Oakland fire, authorities say most victims were trapped on the second floor after a stairwell made of wooden pallets was overtaken by flames.

Debbie Allison argues that this collection of artists in Williamsport is smart enough to speak up if something doesn't look right.

"Everybody looks in on each other and share good things and bad things with each other. It's become a little bit of a community in here," she said.

City officials are quick to point out it's the little things that need to be done in order to do the conversion from an old factory into an artists' warehouse--like changing to a different sprinkler system.

Joe Gerardi is Williamsport's codes administrator. He worked closely with the Pajama Factory owners to get everything up and running and safe to go. That means things like fire doors to separate and seal different parts of the building, enclosed exit stairs, and fire extinguishers galore.

"When you do convert a building, it's not just about opening a building and allowing people to come in. It has to be able for the general public to be safe in the building and in an emergency, be able to get out of that facility," Gerardi said.

The owners of the Pajama Factory have spent more than a decade transforming the facility. They shared a list of ways they've made the building safer:

All work is closely supervised by the building owner/architect who has over 35 years of experience working to restore and renovate historic warehouse buildings. We have worked closely with the codes and fire department of Williamsport to assure the building is safe to occupy. The building is sprinklered and has fire-resistant construction: plank flooring is fire-rated and studio walls are fire- rated, all designed to contain fires and allow people time to escape, if ever needed. The hallways are designed to be wide with no clutter and we have fire doors and masonry fire walls separating portions of the building for fire containment. We also have 5 masonry enclosed exit stairs designed to provide quick exit should a fire break out. We have manual fire extinguishers spread throughout the complex and a no smoking rule within the building. Finally, the insurance companies do annual inspections of the building, as a qualifier for the insurance we carry.

Suzanne and Mark Winkelman, owners

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