The Hemispheres Fire: Condo & City Officials Worked Together To Create A Game Plan

By Hallandale Beach Mayor, Joy Cooper

June 23, 2022

It has been an exceptionally long time since we had to evacuate a condominium for a fire. Typically, the fire is extinguished, and residents can return to their building. In most cases damage is limited to a specific unit. Last week this was not the case. There was a catastrophic electrical fire at The Hemispheres Condo, building 1965. While the fire was limited to a small part of the the building, the electrical fire impacted a brand-new pumping system tied to the air conditioner systems and life safety system tied to the entire complex.

Around 11:30 am (Friday, June 17, 2022) units from multiple fire agencies had responded to the fire. The fire engulfed the entire electrical room. At that time there was no damage to the residential portion of the building, so initially units reported that they did not need to evacuate. They were unaware that all of the buildings systems were dependent on this system for fire safety, not simply air conditioning.
I heard about the fire from a news notification then jumped on my phone and then checked my emails. Obviously, I was relieved there were no injuries. After the initial report, our Building Official Shellie Jackson and Fire Marshall Berger arrived on scene. Shortly after we received notice from City Manager Dr. Earle that we he had some unavoidable news. After the inspection, the Building Official deemed all four towers unsafe. Without a proper life safety system we could not allow residents to stay in the building, this is a state statute.

I need to note that during all this period, the building President and Second in command on site were continuously in communications. They were all working side by side with building staff and our electrical inspector to work on a game plan to get the systems up and running. Our staff jumped into gear and set up the Emergency Operations Center. As with all emergencies things become very fluid. We opened up the Cultural Center as a temporary shelter. There were six families that had been assisted in finding hotels to stay. We called in the Red Cross for assistance, they did come in, however, they do not provide nor pay for hotels in these types of emergencies. Staff set up communication and a hot line, in addition they posted a hotel list online and to social media.

Building 1965 had no water and no AC. The other buildings had domestic water, but no AC. We realized early on that the AC system would not be on for a while. We hoped folks will work with their condominium association in terms of a long-term solution. We have been told that most condominiums have insurance for just an occasion such as this.

We had initially thought that we would need to evacuate all four buildings, however, because the security teams in the building had the needed licensing to perform what is called a fire watch, we did not have to evacuate all the buildings. This was great news as three of the buildings could remain open with a voluntary evacuation, but they still needed to get pumping back up.

A game plan was established to bring in generators. The generator system had been installed by early morning, approximately 4 am. The regulations include to monitor the system for twenty-four hours and then sign off on the temporary fix. On Sunday this occurred promptly as our staff was and has been on call for the incident.

Chief Electrical Inspector Faris confirmed the domestic water pump and fire pump system were back online via a temporary generator with a sufficient fuel source. And building 1965 could be reoccupied on a voluntary basis. We were informed that Tirone Electric will be installing a temporary switchgear solution that has been discussed with FPL to bring the air condition chillers back online.

Hopefully by the publishing date of this article residents will have AC. If they do not, we have set up a system to call on the most vulnerable list through the Hepburn Center. Sadly, the Red Cross informed us that they overheard discussions that the building will not be responsible for the residents’ hotel expenses. The Red Cross fundamentally believes that the building is also responsible and has the insurance for just an event like this. At this time, I would recommend owners to reach out to their insurance if you cannot stay in the building.

Once again, this incident has shed light on the need for every building to make sure they are doing necessary repairs. We talk about the 40-year inspections often and getting the work done. Many of our buildings are now hitting the mark for 50 years. Sadly, many buildings are kicking the can down the road. Waiting do the work rather than continuing to do maintenance. Just because it forty years does not mean you should wait until then. Putting off assessments puts everyone at risk. When your boards are coming forward recommending repairs, support them, getting work done is critical.

As always, feel free to contact me anytime with your questions, concerns and ideas on how to make our City a great place to live, work and play! I am available by Phone or Text At: (954) 632-5700. E-mail me At: jcooper@cohb.org. Or visit my Facebook & Web-site At: www.MayorJoyCooper.com.