Deadly Denver fire could’ve been avoided, contracting union says

DENVER -- A local contracting union is sounding off after Wednesday’s deadly fire left two people dead.

The union said it could have been prevented with better safety standards.

A carpentry union representative said contractors are building at a frantic speed in Denver to keep up with the housing demand.

He said that’s resulting in crews working faster, not more safely.

“When there’s construction of this volume going on, people are racing. We’re building at a very aggressive speed. Sometimes, unfortunately, safety goes by the wayside,” said Mark Thompson, special representative with Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters.

Flames engulfed the apartment building that was under construction at 1833 Emerson St. on Wednesday afternoon.

“This is unacceptable. This can’t happen again,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he has been on this specific project site before. He said there should be safety briefings on a daily basis for all workers.

“There should be a daily safety meeting with all the subcontractors, What’s the task ahead of them? What are the hazards we’re faced with?” he said.

Thompson said he was appalled to learn the subcontractor was unaware of how many workers were on the job site on Wednesday.

“I did speak with the dry wall subcontractor. I spoke with their foreman. I asked him, how many guys did you have on site? So we can start to rally these guys up and account for them. He looked at me straight in the eye and said I don’t know,” Thompson said.

Thompson said a major issue with the Denver construction industry as a whole is that there’s currently more work than qualified workers.

“We’re seeing several incidents, especially in the dry wall contractors are utilizing labor brokers," Thompson said.

"They’re bringing guys in to do the task, paying them cash under the table. There’s no workers' comp, no unemployment, no taxes, no record of these individuals being on a job site.”

Thompson said that makes it hard to have a clear number as to who is working on a job site.

“Right now it’s an underground economy,” Thompson said.

Carpenter advocates will hold a rally to demand action and discuss what they consider to be dangerous practices in the industry.

It will take place at 9 a.m. Friday at 18th Avenue and Emerson Street.