505 Nashville owner says NFD’s order to shut down generators led to slow evacuation

Nashville Fire defends its decision to cut all power as firefighters reported a shock hazard in the building.
The residents of 505 Nashville on Church Street could wait three weeks before they can move back into their units.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 8:34 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2023 at 8:55 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - After a fire damaged roughly 350 units in the 505 Nashville building on Sunday, the race to repair the building and get people back into their homes is underway.

The owner of the building, Tony Giarratana, addressed the media on Wednesday, explaining what happened on Sunday, and outlining the options available for the displaced residents while the repair process takes place.

Giarratana defended the emergency capability of the 505 Nashville building, which received criticism based on how long it took to evacuate the residents during the fire and subsequent electrical explosion that occurred on the 24th floor.

“The fire department did a great job, we’re so proud,” Giarratana said. “But the folks on the scene did not understand that the emergency generators for the building – this is a state-of-the-art building – were completely separate and apart from that electrical system that charges the units.”

Following the initial fire that started when a resident placed a basket on a hot stove inside a 27th-floor unit, the water used to put out that fire made its way to an electrical room on the 24th floor, sparking an “electrical event” that residents said sounded like an explosion.

The separate electrical fire caused the building sprinkler system to kick in on the 24th floor.

“The water (from the sprinkler system) that was used to extinguish the electrical fire in that 24th-floor electrical closet wet the bus duct,” explained Giarratana. “it was unsafe to leave the power on in that bus duct that goes all the way through the 29 floors of the building. So that power was turned off. Immediately after turning that power off, our emergency generators kicked on, as designed.”

The Nashville Fire Department said firefighters on the 24th floor began reporting shock hazards from the electrical wave created by the backup generators.

“The fire department directed our team to turn the emergency generators off,” Giarratana explained. “So, with the emergency generators off, the elevators would not move…the emergency lighting within the stairwells went off.”

NFD defended the decision to shut down all the power, including the generators, based on what was being reported at the scene.

“The option of keeping the generators on would simply create unpredicted sources of electricity surging throughout this area,” NFD spokesperson Kendra Loney said. “Also would create an unpredictable source of, maybe, another electrical fire in another room…we simply did not want to take that risk with the residents. We had firefighters who were, simply, receiving shocks themselves.”

Giarratana told reporters on Wednesday that he has requested a meeting with Nashville Fire leadership and firefighters to explain the technology in his building, “so we can learn from this and do better.”

The fire on Sunday caused extensive damage to 51 units, and minor damage to another 63 units.

Giarratana said it could take at least three weeks before people can move back into 505 Nashville once the power is restored to the affected floors.