NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Photos obtained by News4 Investigates show two massive fires, nine years apartment, at the Brentwood Oaks apartments show both buildings had a sprinkler system that did not prevent it from burning to the ground.

Additional documents obtained by News4 Investigates show that firefighters also faced additional problems during the May 24th fire, including a delay in getting through the gates.

On June 26, 2012, a fire at the apartment complex burned more than two dozen units.

In the May 24, 2021 fire at the complex, more than 18 apartments were destroyed.

News4 Investigates obtained photos from inside one of the units in 2012 before it burned, showing two sprinklers on the wall.

Sprinklers in 2012 apartment before fire

We also obtained a photo from inside one of the units in 2021 before it burned, where two sprinklers can be seen in the background.

Sprinklers in apartment before 2021 fire

News4 Investigates showed our findings to Vickie Pritchett, Vice President of the National Fire Sprinkler Association.

“People may see this and say, ‘I've got a sprinkler in my apartment, now I don't feel safe.’ What would you say to them?” asked News4 Investigates.

“Absolutely, we're always concerned when stories like this happen that people will make the assumption - the misassumption if you will – that fire sprinklers just don't work. That's not true,” Pritchett said.

News4 Investigates also consulted with Robby Dawson, southeast regional director of the National Fire Protection Association.

Both Pritchett and Dawson said that the explanation of how this type of fire has so destructive, in a building with a sprinkler system, could lie in where the fire started.

In the final investigative fire report, firefighters said they first spotted the flames on the roof.

Dawson said if a fire starts above a sprinkler system, such as in an attic or a roof, the sprinklers, which go off when they become hot enough, won’t immediately activate.

“Heat travels up,” Dawson said. “(Sprinklers) could eventually go off, but it's going to take a lot more time. A lot more heat to activate that sprinkler.”

In the 2012 fire, firefighters said the fire began in the attic of the building.

News4 Investigates asked for an interview with the owner of the complex, Sentinel Real Estate Corporation, but the company declined.

Instead, the company released a statement that did not address our questions, reading, “We were saddened to learn of the fire at Brentwood Oaks Apartments and send our thoughts to those who have been impacted. We are grateful that no one was hurt and will continue to cooperate with authorities as they investigate the cause of the fire.”

The final fire report in 2021 showed firefighters were delayed because of an issue obtaining access to the gate on the property.

The report also cites the complex had a private hydrant system and there was an inadequate amount of pressure to fight the fire.

Nashville fire department spokesman Joseph Pleasant wrote in an email to News4 Investigates, “The hydrants were providing pressure, which was in line with that they are supposed to provide. However, the number of apparatus we had on scene to respond to the incident put a higher demand on the private fire hydrant system so a water relay system was established. This is a common practice even when our personnel are connected to a MWS hydrant. Different hydrants provide different pressure levels based on a number of factors including the size of the water lines supplying the hydrant.”

The final fire report also cites that Piedmont Gas Company could not shut off the gas to the building immediately and added to the size of the fire.

Dawson said if you live in an apartment, you should ask if there are sprinklers in the attic or anywhere outside, such as a balcony, that would slow a fire if it spread outside.

If not, Dawson recommended you make a fire escape plan.

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Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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