Dubuque's Millwork District buildings meet strict fire codes

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG TV-9) -- A building restoration company in Dubuque says large buildings, like warehouses, go through regular inspections. The safety of such buildings across the country is under the microscope after a fire killed dozens of people in Oakland.

The fire happened during a party late Friday, killing at least 36 people. Firefighters are working their way through the converted warehouse where artists worked, and some lived. The city had been investigating the two-story building for structural deficiencies. People who had been inside the building say they knew it wasn't up to code but it attracted artists looking for affordable spaces.

In Dubuque, The Caradco building, for example, is home to places like the Dubuque Food Co-op, several retail stores, a couple restaurants and office space. The Caradco building is where historic character meets modern convenience.

John Gronen, owner of Gronen Restoration, has renovated and re-developed dozens of Dubuque's oldest buildings. That includes the Caradco building.

"This is just as good as a newly constructed building for sure," said Gronen.

During redevelopment, Gronen worked closely with the city's building inspectors and the fire department.

Exposed wood beams line the ceilings on each level of the building. But for stability, there are a couple feet of cement between each story.
There's an integrated fire alarm system and sprinklers throughout the building.

"If a sprinkler head goes off in the middle of the night, they at the fire department know right immediately when they get here. There are indicator panels so they can see exactly where the problem is," said Gronen.

Reports indicate none of those safety systems were in place inside the Oakland warehouse that caught fire.

Dubuque Fire Marshal Mark Burkle says these historic millwork buildings are completely up to fire code. That includes dual exits for the businesses that host crowds or big parties.

"I feel as comfortable going into this building as I would newer buildings that are only 5 or 10 years old, just because of the extensive remodeling that's been done," said Burkle.