JACKSONVILLE, Fla. According to the most recent fire safety inspection records for Paradise Island Apartments, the property passed an inspection in 2018 but failed an inspection in 2016. Documents from Jacksonville Fire Marshal Chief Kevin Jones state the property failed the 2016 inspection because it didn't maintain the required annual inspection of its fire alarm system.
During the two-alarm fire that destroyed 20 units in one building Sunday afternoon, residents said they didn't hear or see any alarms, smoke detectors or sprinklers go off. No residents were hurt in the fire.
"I didn't hear anything," Kerry Wagner, who lives in the building destroyed, said. "I just heard a lot of popping and a lot of people screaming. It is concerning."
Im sorry, were paying rent and thats supposed to be a safety thing," Lisa Accomando, who lives in the building the fire tore through, said. "They changed the battery in the alarm when we moved in. Thats what they said. Why didnt it go off? Why didnt the one above us go off? I dont know."
Jones said the problem in 2016 was corrected a month later. During a re-inspection of the property that next month, the previously cited fire code violation was corrected, and the property got a pass status. The inspections are done every two years.
The next fire safety inspection for the property is set to happen before the end of the month. Jones said he planned to visit the property Monday evening to address questions about whether or not the property's fire alarm system had activated.
Residents credit a group of teens for getting most of them out of the building. They said the teens acted as the alarm system, banging on doors and yelling for everyone to get out.
"They went and they knocked door to door screaming, 'Fire! Fire!' and got as many people as they could out," Kerry Leonard, who lives in the building destroyed, said.
"I totally credit them [for helping the residents]," Accomando said. "They were so nice and so sympathetic. They were like, 'We're just doing our job,' and I was like, 'No,' that was way above what they were doing. They were actually in that place while it was on fire knocking on doors."
Some of the teenagers live in the front of the complex, others were visiting, and said they noticed smoke coming from a building in the back and ran to help.
"The only alarm going off was us beating on the doors," Zachary Grubb, one of the teens, said.
First Coast News asked management at the complex about the alarms not going off. Management sent a statement reading in part:
"Thank you for your concern. Paradise Island is thankful for the professionalism and hard work of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and the residents of our community who assisted their neighbors during Sunday's incident ... Since this is an active investigation, we are directing all requests for information to the fire department investigators."
Monday, residents waited as ATF agents went unit-by-unit to see if they could find anything in the rubble. ATF agents said theyre helping the State Fire Marshal with the investigation, something they commonly do.
"This jewelry box my wife has had for several years," Wagner said, holding one of the only things to make it out of his unit.
"Inside is her birth certificate and her passport," he said. "ATF was gracious enough to get it for her and go in the room. Every bit helps. We're still shocked and in grief about things, but almost everything is replaceable."
The teens who helped sound the alarm have now set up a GoFundMe page to help the victims of the fire.
All they have is what they wore out and what they could grab," Michael Rizzo, one of the teens, said. "They probably have little to no help besides the Red Cross, and anything we can do to help them is better than nothing. Its what we have to do to help this community."
"If my house burned down one day, and we had to start from the bottom, I think these people need a little bit of help," Steven Deason, one of the teens, said.
The teens' help, neighbors said, a silver lining in so much devastation and frustration.
"I didn't know that kind of generosity and heroism was around here," Accomando said. "It's going to be hard starting over."
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but the State Fire Marshal's Office said it doesn't believe it was caused by anything suspicious.
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