Firefighters have responded to multiple fires at Northridge Mall in the last month. Chief Aaron Lipski says 'something has to happen.'

·3 min read

Firefighters responded to the former Northridge Mall for the fourth time in less than a month for a report of a fire.

Fire Chief Aaron Lipski said something needs to be done about the security of the building, because he refuses to put his firefighters at risk anymore, or use resources to fight fires at the vacant building.

"The whole rest of the northwest side is without emergency coverage right now, as we are out here putting out fires in a pile of rubbish," Lipski said at a late Wednesday night news conference.

"The men and these women have to go into this building repeatedly, putting their life at extreme risk because it has not been properly secured. It should have been razed a long time ago. I'm not the one. I'm not standing here and continuing to commit my firefighters to put their lives at risk. They have families. Because a building's not properly secured, this is absolutely unacceptable in 2022. Something has to happen."

Lipski said the city cannot continue to commit resources, not just with the fire department but also the Milwaukee Police Department, which has to conduct an investigation and potentially provide for crowd or traffic control.

"There's nobody maintaining this property, there's nobody responsible for this property, there might be an owner on a piece of paper. That's not the same. Not when my firefighters' lives are at risk and I'm over it. I'm done," Lipski said.

Northridge was sold to U.S Black Spruce Enterprise Group Inc., an affiliate of a Chinese investment group, in 2008. There are still no plans for the vacant mall. Attempts to redevelop the mall are facing more delays following a court decision against a city condemnation order.

The court reversed a ruling by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Pocan that upheld the raze order. The appeals court sent the case back to the circuit court for further consideration.

The fire chief then went on to say "we're going to be taking some action on this," but then quickly told reporters "don't ask me what that is."

The fire department has responded to a number of fires at the building in the last month, including a "rubbish fire" on July 16, Lipski said. Fire crews also responded to fires on July 19 and July 24, with all fires happening in the evening.

The fires at the mall continue to spread because there are no working smoke detection or fire suppression systems.

"This is wildly unacceptable ... a building of this size," Lipski said.

Fighting fires at the mall is also a taxing operation because firefighters can't access the roof because it is covered in gypsum rock and presents a risk of the roof collapsing.

"Every firefighter in the nation understands, you go up on a roof with gypsum rock, you're going through that roof," Lipski said.

Without the roof access, there isn't proper ventilation resulting in firefighters taking on a heavy amount of heat and smoke. Firefighters are "being baked alive inside," Lipski said.

Fire officials don't yet have an official cause but they know it was an incendiary act. "Someone has gone in there and intentionally started this fire," Lipski said, adding that he can reach that conclusion because there is no electric or gas in the building.

"We don't have anybody in custody, and so it will happen again," the chief added.

"If I sound irritated tonight, then you're hearing me. This has to stop. We are already taxed beyond belief at the Milwaukee Fire Department."

Tom Daykin contributed to this article.

Contact Drake Bentley at (414) 391-5647 or DBentley1@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DrakeBentleyMJS.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Firefighters fight fourth fire in last month at Northridge Mall