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Milwaukee Fire Department placarding program of abandoned buildings causing controversy

MILWAUKEE, WI (CBS 58) – Signs have been going up on abandoned buildings around the city and city officials say they weren’t told about it.

During the joint committee on redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes, the Fire Chief explained the program that has caused some controversy.

According to the fire department, there are 178 buildings across the city that now have these warning signs. Some city officials have referred to them as scarlet letters while the fire department says they’re meant to help reduce risk in a fire.

The signs show an “X” or a slash. They’re placed near the entrance of an abandoned or run down building.

“These are vacant, condemned, set for demolition,” explains Fire Chief Rohlfing. “So these aren’t anything except bad properties”.

Fire officials say it’s all part of their placarding program to help identify structures that are unsafe.

An “X” is placed when a building is deemed unsafe to enter while a slash means crews should be cautious when entering.

“I guess an email would have been nice,” says Alderman Russell Stamper. “I’m sure that wouldn’t have been an issue”.

The committee says they were never notified of the program and fear the attention this would attract like crime and squatters.

“It’s a hazard but at the same time there could be things I think they could do to make it a better place for everyone in the community,” says Morris Jones who lives near a marked building.

Jones says his biggest concern isn’t so much the markings but rather the empty buildings themselves.

“I think some of these properties are fire hazards and they need to be torn down and rebuilt,” says Jones.

Those same kinds of concerns were addressed at the meeting. It was decided guidelines are needed in order to place a placard on a building.

“It isn’t so much of a placard as it’s just a sticker on a door that notifies our firefighters that this has some lightweight construction and that comes with its own set of challenges,” says Chief Rohlfing.

Rohlfing says the marked buildings could have problems like broken stairs and other structural damages and knowing these things ahead of time can help keep firefighters safe.

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