The Madison Fire Department, worried that locked exit doors at the state Capitol could pose a safety risk to the building's inhabitants, is pushing hard for changes to prevent a possible tragedy.
"There is a sense of disappointment that there doesn't seem to be more urgency on the part of DOA," says Fire Department spokeswoman Lori Wirth, referring to the state Department of Administration, which manages the building.
At present, the building has just two working entrances, with weapons screening stations at both. The DOA last week assured the Fire Department that the Capitol's remaining six exits are all open, but an on-site inspection called that contention into question.
"We have a number of doors that are not opening to the outside," says Wirth, explaining that while one door at each exit is open, it is not clearly marked.
"If you're just having people walk out, they can try other doors," says Wirth. "But if you have a lot of people trying to leave at once" - as they would in any emergency - the locked doors create "a lot of opportunity for people to get backed up."
Wirth says it is "not a good situation" and clearly contrary to the codes the Fire Department would normally enforce. The problem is that the Legislature exempted the Capitol from local fire codes years ago. Still, Wirth says, "They have always followed our directives."
Until now. After confirming a citizen's complaint that some doors won't open, Madison Fire Marshal Ed Ruckriegel contacted the DOA's Robin Zentner, asking for changes.
"We did not get the answer we were looking for," says Wirth, adding that the department is continuing to follow up on its concern. "We've notified the Department of Commerce, which may have jurisdiction." And on Wednesday, the department wrote up the DOA's violations (see this story at TheDailyPage.com).
Efforts to get comment from the Commerce Department, Zentner or DOA spokeswoman Carla Vigue were not successful.