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A near miss: Waukesha Fire Chief says few safe guards are in place to prevent a building collapse

Steve Howard
Posted at 5:15 PM, Dec 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-03 19:26:55-05

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Problems at a Waukesha condo building were nearly missed because regular inspections do not require structural inspections. Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard says it was the right set of circumstances that prevented a tragedy at the Horizon West Condominiums Thursday night.

The people living at 315 N. West Ave. have a wind storm to thank for their safety, according to Howard. He says that storm started to expose a structural issue no one could previously see.

“By peeling that soffit off, it really exposed problems that were there that probably would not have been detected until something catastrophic would have happened,” said Howard.

Waukesha condo
Waukesha condo building at 315 N. West Avenue was on the brink of collapse before it was evacuated.

According to the Waukesha Fire Department, there are only regular fire prevention inspections at the building.

"There is no requirement for structural inspections that I'm aware of, unless there's a deficiency that's identified,” said Howard.

The contractor working on the condos says it was their work that helped uncover the problem, which ended up being much bigger than anyone realized.

"We were hired six months ago to remove the balconies, because they were structurally defect. Once we removed the balconies, we found other structural defects in the building which we brought to the city,” said contractor Steve McGuire.

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Work being done on the condo building's balconies at 315 N. West Avenue was what helped uncover that it was on the brink of collapse.

The city says part of the problem with the 1966 condo building stems from how it was built and maintained.

“The building met code at that time, but it doesn't meet code today. And there are maintenance issues in the building that need to be taken care of,” said McGuire.

“It just reinforces that building owners need to review their buildings and make sure they are taking care of the preventative maintenance in order to make sure structurally issues do not exist,” said Kevin Lahner, the Waukesha City Administrator.

Fire Chief Howard says if you have safety concerns about where you are living, start with the owner or the condo board. And if the problems are not addressed, contact the city.

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