Man dies after condo building catches fire in Pompano Beach

Authorities find 80-year-old man dead of apparent smoke inhalation

By Madeleine Wright - Reporter, Natalie Morera - Executive Producer

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. - A condominium building caught fire early Tuesday morning in Pompano Beach, leaving one man dead and about 100 residents displaced.

The fire happened at 1505 N. Riverside Drive and residents say the fire began around 1:15 a.m.

A family member identified the victim as Vincent R. Andretta, 80, a retired psychiatrist who had a practice in Brooklyn.

"There was a speaker. There was a prerecorded voice saying, 'There's a fire in the building, evacuate the building. Do not use the elevator. Take the stairs," resident David Booth said.  

According to Pompano Beach Fire Rescue, a woman walked out of her bathroom to find her seventh-floor apartment on fire. She was able to escape unharmed.

The fire was contained to one apartment, but the smoke spread quickly down the hallway and to nearby apartments. After fire crews entered the apartments, they performed rescues, but found Andretta dead four units down from where the fire started, according to spokeswoman Sandra King.

King said Andretta, died of apparent smoke inhalation after going to the bathroom to speak with someone on the phone. The bathroom had no ventilation.

"It was a death trap," King said. 

Apartment 707, where the apartment started, was destroyed, and other apartments were heavily damaged by smoke and water. Fifty fire units from different local agencies responded to the four-alarm fire.

Pompano Beach Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Michael Hohl described how difficult it was to fight.

"This was a very hot fire, so the crews that were up on the fire floor and we also had crews looking on every floor for fire, and in a lot of cases they had to take the stairs," Hohl said. "So there's a lot of work that has to be done and there's only so long that they can last on a bottle of air."

Hohl said three people who were trapped on their balcony were rescued by firefighters.

"Because the fire conditions were so intense, we were not able to get down the hallway to the fire apartment, so that's when the decision was made to use the ladder truck," he said.  

Amber Webb, who lives on the fifth floor, said she feared for her life as she left the building with her nephew.

"I ran downstairs, flames were blazing and people were getting out," Webb said. "Hopefully everybody got out all right."

Pompano Beach Fire Rescue Fire Marshal and the State Fire Marshal are investigating the cause of the fire.

"It's a 15-story high-rise building," Hohl said. "It does not have fire sprinklers. If it did have fire sprinklers, then this fire would have gone a totally different way, and probably would have been put out by the fire sprinkler system."

King said the condo building was built before a state law went into effect, which requires all high-rise buildings to have sprinkler systems.

The state statute states that by December 2019, all high-rise buildings must be retrofitted to have sprinklers.

King said the fire marshal was working with the people who own and manage the building to retrofit the building, but said it's regrettable that the building was not retrofitted in time to prevent or mitigate the deadly fire.

The American Red Cross was assisting 49 displaced residents. The others found places to stay on their own, authorities said.

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