Lawsuit: Landlord ignored Fire Watch rules, resident died in fire

The family of a man who died in a Cobb County apartment fire sued the complex, blaming a broken fire sprinkler system and the alleged failure of employees to properly watch for a fire.

Thomas Alexander, 74, died February 13, 2023, after a fire started in the apartment he shared with his sister. No cause was ever determined.

Dozens of other residents also lost their homes to the fire at the Hamptons at East Cobb. But in the days following the accident, those renters discovered a troublesome fact: for more than a month, their sprinkler system didn't work. And, they said, management never warned them.

Thomas Alexander with his younger sister Vicky. (Family photo)

When a building’s fire alarm or sprinkler system malfunctions, local fire officials give the owner a choice: they can close the building to the public until the system is back online, or the company can go on what’s called Fire Watch, assigning someone to walk around doing nothing else but looking for a fire.

But the lawsuit alleges the Hamptons at East Cobb "negligently failed to comply with the requirements of the Fire Watch," leading to Alexander's death.

The damage left behind in the Alexander apartment by the Hamptons at East Cobb fire.

"You knew this stuff was not working, and I was not protected," complained Vicky Alexander, the victim's sister.

Fire Watch can be monotonous work, especially when done correctly.

Peachtree Dialysis Center CEO Martin Babayev spent days patrolling his Peachtree Corners clinic when his fire suppression system went down recently.

"It took a lot of time," he admitted.

Never mind the clinic wasn’t yet open to patients. Every hour, Martin would make his rounds, checking every room, eyeballing every plug.

"You’re the eyes and ears of the building," explained Aaron Russell of Primo Fire Protection. "If the suppression system or alarm system or anything that’s covered by fire protection is out of service, there’s no protection there."

There's no law requiring a company to notify residents or the public that the fire alarms aren't working.

But in the case of the Hamptons at South Cobb, the fire marshal definitely knew.

The county cited the complex multiple times for a "failed" system and placed the complex on Fire Watch.

One of the Fire Watch logs submitted by management at Hamptons at East Cobb.

The lawsuit points out the person on Fire Watch is supposed to "have no other duties … they shall continuously patrol the structure(S) looking for fire and/or hazardous conditions."

Of the 45 days Hamptons at East Cobb was supposed to be on Fire Watch, fire officials could provide only 12 days of logs submitted by apartment management. Those logs show the overnight hours were mainly staffed by the apartment resident manager.

Residents told the FOX 5 I-Team they never saw anyone checking their building.

The lawsuit alleged at the time of the fire the complex "failed to have an individual patrolling the premises on Fire Watch."

According to the lawsuit, not only were residents never alerted about the broken system, the complex "intentionally misrepresented to tenants that the systems were safe and operable."

Trina Johnson renewed her lease during the time the fire system was broken. Yet on her lease, the complex checked she had a working sprinkler system.

"If I knew sooner that they didn’t have any sprinklers, I would have moved," she said.

The law firm representing the Hamptons did not respond to attempts for comment.

CEO Martin Babayev says handling Fire Watch duties at his dialysis clinic was "stressful." Fire officials require a company to either institute a Fire Watch or evacuate the business until the alarm system is operational. For an apartment complex, tha

We asked that dialysis clinic CEO if he could see someone not following the rules of Fire Watch.

"Yeah," Babayev said. "Is it recommended? Absolutely not. Because if there’s a fire, it could be too late."