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ST. LOUIS – Abandoned buildings have been a problem in the U.S. for decades, and that problem is starting to become evident again. Blighted buildings can also be deathtraps for firefighters, as first responders are forced to put their lives on the line when fires break out on these properties.
“It’s an issue, it’s been an issue. We can’t just roll up on a building and say, ‘There’s nobody in there, we’re not going in.’ We’re here to protect life and property, and that’s what we do,” said St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson.
Burnt remains of an abandoned home in St. Louis. (Madison Scarpino/Fox News)
Julie Lawton, a legal and real estate expert from DePaul University, says homes and buildings contribute to crime and drag down property values for everybody. The pandemic didn’t help matters.
“You had a number of people who were unable to pay their rent, they were leaving their homes. You had a number of people who lost their jobs and lost their income,” said Lawton.
St. Louis properties in disrepair. (Madison Scarpino/Fox News)
More people losing their incomes and leaving their homes means more abandoned buildings. Firefighters constantly see the issue firsthand.
“The same buildings that I was fighting fires in 15, 20, 25, 30 years ago are the same buildings that we’re fighting fires in today,” Jenkerson said.
For the St. Louis Fire Department, the problem is personal. Firefighter Benjamin Polson was killed at the age of 33 on Jan. 13, 2022, while battling a blaze in an abandoned building that collapsed.
Image from Firefighter Ben Polson’s funeral after he was killed fighting a fire in an abandoned building. (St. Louis Fire Department)
Jenkerson says over 40% of the fires his department fights are in abandoned buildings, and that’s where nearly all firefighters’ injuries occur.
“It’s becoming a very dangerous area for all firefighters and all the major cities that have these old buildings,” Jenkerson lamented.
But it’s not just firefighters who should be concerned.
“Blight, vacant and abandoned property is a concern for all homeowners. For themselves, for their safety, as well as for the safety of their kids and their loved ones,” Lawton said.
Several streets in St. Louis are overrun with abandoned homes. (Madison Scarpino/Fox News)
Lawton says cities with more abandoned properties often have higher crime rates and lower property values.
“Think about where you want to live,” Lawton said. “Do you want to live in an area that’s vibrant, or do you want to live in an area where you have across the street an abandoned warehouse? So from the homeowners’, from the city standpoint, from the safety standpoint, from a community development standpoint, it is an issue that a number of people want to address and something that we absolutely should address.”
Fixing this issue comes down to local government. Many cities across the country have been introducing bills to address this problem, whether they’re geared toward rehabilitating properties or tearing them down.