News

Fire chief: Cafe was behind on maintenance

 

Human nature was a culprit in the June 16 fire in Cafe Silan on Santa Cruz Avenue that put the 11-year-old restaurant out of business, hurried the permanent closure of the Book Rack next door, and closed Posh Bagel for at least six months, according to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

"Arrogance, ignorance and complacency," Chief Schapelhouman told The Almanac. "A lot of the reason that we (firefighters) have our jobs is because of that. ... This stuff happens because of human nature. These are not bad people."

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but the suspect is an improperly installed flue. Investigators are checking to see if a building permit had been issued and who had done the work, Chief Schapelhouman said.

Maintenance of Cafe Silan's fire-suppression systems "was an issue," the chief said. Management had been notified three times since September 2009 that the fire extinguisher was one year overdue and that the device over the oven that smothers fires with a blanket of fire-suppressing powder was two years overdue, the chief said.

"It's not unusual to see people deferring maintenance. It costs money," he said. "Mom-and-Pop-Shop-America is challenged by a lot of different things."

Cafe Silan's insurance had expired, but the building was insured, owner Nancy Couperus told The Almanac. The Book Rack had been on track to close within the year, and it may be six months or more before Posh Bagel is back in business, she said.

Installing fire sprinklers in the attic when Cafe Silan moved in had been "a huge expense," Ms. Couperus recalled, "but boy, I'll tell you, we are quite grateful we did it."

Retailers often dread seeing firefighters visit to inspect and "pre-target" a potential fire by considering how to fight it, the chief said.

Firefighters are occasionally asked why a fire extinguisher needs to be maintained, he said. "You may need to use it," is the answer. "You have a cooking facility and if you're cooking, you could have a fire."

Boxes may be blocking an exit corridor, and may go back to where they were when firefighters leave, the chief said. Thus the importance of education. "We know that if we come in heavy handed, it's not going to work," he said.

Will inspection schedules ramp up? Is there a list of suspects? "I'm worried about every place," the chief said. "Every business that goes out of business isn't paying revenue into the system. We're not immune from that. Inspectors cannot keep up with the workload they have. It's a difficult situation and we're seeing more of it. People are just trying to get by."

Comments

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Posted by Localone
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 6, 2010 at 8:44 pm

With the following stated by the Chief, the question is why was Cafe Silan permitted to continue to operate? Notified three times since September? They not only took out their own business, yet those of innocent business owners adjacent to them: "Maintenance of Cafe Silan's fire-suppression systems "was an issue," the chief said. Management had been notified three times since September 2009 that the fire extinguisher was one year overdue and that the device over the oven that smothers fires with a blanket of fire-suppressing powder was two years overdue", the chief said.


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Posted by Sarah
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 7, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Agree with localone and it is easy to see how this multi-business tragedy could have been avoided. Does Cafe Silan compensate the other businesses somehow for this negligence?


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Posted by Blame Game
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 8, 2010 at 7:24 am

A better question is: how will the building owner (a leader of the Asphalt Preservation Alliance) blame this on the evil, evil Downtown Plan? Was the building so frightened by the prospect of wider sidewalks that it just spontaneously burst into flames?


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Posted by Guest
a resident of another community
on Jul 8, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Thank you Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman for understanding that operating businesses mean taxes and jobs, and that working with them is the best for all. Thank you for understanding that overbearing and oppressive government is bad for the community and the citizens.

"Maintenance of Cafe Silan's fire-suppression systems" means that it was to be inspected at a significant expense to the business. The inspection is always expensive and often results in nothing more than a signature on an inspection card. Less often the inspection may result in repairs, recharging, or adjustments. The fire-suppression system was likely working, just the inspections were not completed.

"The cause of the fire is still unknown, but the suspect is an improperly installed flue."

The business had let their insurance lapse. Business insurance is now very expensive due in part to the inability of Americans to take responsibility for their own actions and their propensity to litigate. You spill coffee on yourself and you get a million dollars??? People need to be responsible for their own actions and we need to understand that hurting businesses hurts us all as they pass the costs on to us.

Remember, over taxed, over regulated, over burdened business go out of business, cut employees, and raise their prices to the consumers.

Often people complain about the businesses that pay poorly, don't provide benefits, and don't provide healthcare. Yet those same consumers patronize those same businesses because they have lower prices.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Guest states:"Remember, over taxed, over regulated, over burdened business go out of business, cut employees, and raise their prices to the consumers."

In fact this fire demonstrates that businesses which do not follow the rules and comply with the law place both themselves and others at risk.
And to do so without the insurance which would help protect others who suffer from such behavior is simply irresponsible.

Guest also completely misrepresents the comments made by the Fire Chief - at no time did he even suggest that "overbearing and oppressive government is bad for the community and the citizens. "

Guest should speak for him/herself - not for respected public officials.


Like this comment
Posted by ginger
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 15, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Bevmo is Comming to Menlo Park
I just saw ABC license posting on the door of old Chilli's and the applicant is Bevmo.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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