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Iconic Village fire influences code, department changes

Iconic Village Fire: One Year Later
Saturday, July 20, 2019

The San Marcos Fire Department and San Marcos dispatch have made changes to their departments following the Iconic Village fire that occurred on July 20, 2018.  

San Marcos Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner said the fire that killed five helped push along the department’s move to keeping digital records of fire inspections. 

“We had always been on pencil and paper,” Kistner said. “When people started asking the last time this place was inspected? Or when was this inspected? When was the last time Iconic was inspected? We literally had to sit there and go back through paper after paper. Today, a click of a few keys and we can give you inspection reports back since about March of this year. It took us some time to procure that and implement it.”

The Iconic Village fire killed Haley Frizzell, 19, Dru Estes, 20, David Angel Ortiz, 21, Belinda Moats, 21, Dru Estes, 20, and James Phillip Miranda, 23. The blaze was ruled to have been set intentionally on Nov. 29, 2018. The victims’ deaths were ruled homicides on Dec. 17, 2018. 

The building that burned down did not have a sprinkler system and wasn’t required to have one because of its age. 

Kistner said the fire department put together a list after the Iconic Village fire of which apartments had no fire safety systems and inspected them. 

“Today, looking at the 100 largest properties, about 60 percent of those have been completely inspected and are 100 percent with current requirements of the code,” Kistner said. 

Approximately 70 percent of the town’s population lives in apartments, Kistner said, and they’re trying everything they can to prevent another deadly fire from occurring. 

“(Seventy percent is) a huge piece of our population that we need to make sure we’re protecting,” Kistner said. “And the best way to protect is to prevent the fires.” 

In response to the fire, the San Marcos City Council gave approval of a second and final reading of fire code changes recommended by Kistner and fire chief Les Stephens. 

The amendments to the fire code will include bans on grills on multifamily patios, requirements for better gate access for emergency responders at gated properties and a requirement for fire extinguishers in both individual apartments and hallways at multi-family properties.

Additional changes include fire department connections and Knox boxes — locked boxes on the outside of buildings that contain keys to the building that fire personnel can access so they can enter a building when responding to a call without having to break down a door.

At San Marcos’ dispatch center, the dispatchers have undergone more training for events like the Iconic fire. 

“Never in a million years would you expect something like this to happen,” said Daniel Robson, a 911 telecommunicator. “There’s always been policy and procedure in place since the department started. But it’s just we now train. One thing we’ve done since then is we do what’s called blue-card training, which is where we train over the radio and call processing over massive structure fires and stuff like that just so we can get familiar with the terminology (firefighters) use and we know what to expect.” 

Howie Minor, San Marcos Fire Department Batallion Chief, said fire trucks now have more hose after fighting the Iconic fire. Minor also said the experience San Marcos’ firefighters received while battling the deadly blaze is invaluable. 

“I know this was huge but if it ever happens again they’re going to have this under their belt,” Minor said. “You only get better if you’ve seen something. I hate to say that.”

With a large number of people living in apartments and students about to return to San Marcos for a new semester, Kistner stressed the importance of fire safety. 

“Make sure you know how to get out if there is a fire,” Kistner said. “If you’re at home or if you’re in an apartment, make sure you’ve got a meeting place to meet up with those that are close to you whether it’s friends, family, significant others, whoever it maybe. Make sure your smoke alarms work. Make sure your extinguishers are in place … Just take a few minutes and be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of how to get out of a fire and make sure you can be notified of that fire with your smoke alarms.” 

San Marcos Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666