MOUNT VERNON — Within about 24 hours of first being told the building they were living in was being closed because of fire code violations, families packed up their possessions and vacated their rooms in the eastern building of the Curtis Inn.
The closure followed what Mount Vernon Fire Chief Chris Menapace characterized as “an unacceptable amount” of fire code violations following an inspection by the State Fire Marshal’s Office on Tuesday morning.
Menapace explained the urgency stating, “It was mandated because the severity of the conditions warranted immediate action.”
Resident guests at the hotel were initially advised Tuesday that they had to leave by noon Wednesday while conducting a Fire Watch mandated by the fire department. Menapace said it is reasonable to conduct the program when code violations are so extreme. Management was asked, but residents offered to perform the duties, to basically patrol every 15 minutes with a notification and communication devices and perform evacuation drills.
By early afternoon Wednesday, there were eight rooms still occupied with approximately 14 adults and 15 children from infants through preschool.
At the hotel, Menapace, accompanied by fire inspector Terry Davis, asked Curtis Inn manager Walter Dsouza if he informed all of the residents that they had to leave the hotel. Dsouza said he had, but added that the hotel owner had not received notice in writing regarding the violations.
Sucha Sinch has owned the hotel for about seven years and Amit Bansal, who says he owns 20 businesses, has been in partnership with Sinch for a year.
Bansal said, “I appreciate these customers much more than anyone in the world.” He extended prorated refunds to guests who paid for a week or more in advance.
Failed inspection closed part of Curtis Inn October 24, 2011
Hotel ordered to fix overhead walkway October 20, 2011
Henry’s closing upheld by health department August 21, 2012
Henry’s at Curtis temporarily closed August 18, 2012
Henry’s renovating kitchen, bar facilities November 17, 2009
Just before 1 p.m., Chief Menapace collected the names of the adults and children who had not yet vacated and advised the manager that the prosecutor’s office would be issuing warrants for the arrest of the adults on charges of criminal trespassing if they had not evacuated the premises by 2 p.m. Children would be removed by Children’s Services, he said.
Only five adults gathered when Menapace tried to advise the residents. The chief gave them the phone number for Interchurch and told them the agency would help put them up at another hotel.
The News confirmed this morning the Winter Sanctuary Board has approved funding to help shelter displaced residents of the Curtis.
Chief Menapace arrived at 2:30 p.m. and spoke briefly with Bansal, who asked to be given a copy of the State Fire Marshall’s report. And Dsouza assured him residents were out of the rooms except for three residents who had not been to their rooms to learn of the evacuation.
Menapace returned a short time later with a 94-page copy of the State Fire Marshal Jeff Davis’ report that indicated 84 violations.
The News acquired the report through a public records request.
The first 26 pages of the report documents unsanitary bedding and carpets in a number of rooms, stating that “all bedding used in any hotel must be thoroughly aired, disinfected, and kept clean. No bedding which is infested with vermin or bedbugs shall be used on any bed in any hotel. All floors, carpets, and equipment in hotels, and all walls and ceiling shall be kept in sanitary condition.”
Shane Cartmill, communications officer for the State Fire Marshal’s office, told the News the SFM performs annual inspections for hotel licensing. Last year the Curtis Inn was issued more than 40 pages of violations so with its prior record, the Knox County Health Department and city law director’s office were included in the inspection.
Menapace stated that he also attends the inspection because he needs to know of hazards that his department might encounter in the event of a fire.
Cartmill also noted that it is the fire marshal’s charge to not only look for fire code violations, but health and safety issues as well. The SFM can even write violations for bed bugs.
Other violations included the failure to post certificates of occupancy in the rooms, bathroom ventilation fans that didn’t work, a change of use violation for a guest room converted to a play room, lint built up in laundry, signs and lights not maintained in existing means of egress, smoke detectors that were either missing or not working and fire extinguishers that were either missing or not mounted.
“It’s extremely important to help businesses operate lawfully,” Cartmill said, “However, citizens’ safety and health are paramount. We need to make sure no one is endangered as a result of fire and health reasons.”
Menapace has requested that the city law director’s office file an injunction against the Curtis Inn to close the eastern portion of the facility and the kitchen indefinitely.
“Our goal,” stated Menapace, “for the facility is that it is brought into full compliance with the fire codes.”
Calls to the City Law Director’s Office seeking information regarding legal action were not returned at press time.
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