The first interstate fire was a fire that took Los Angeles by surprise. It was in the late evening at May 4, 1988 when it all started until it was extinguished early next morning. (LAFIRE. COM) It was a blaze on the 62-storey building at the first interstate Bank building in 707-west wilshire boulevard in Los Angles. This was a very historical fire since it was the worst fire on a high-rise building ever seen in Los Angeles and even the whole of America but was miraculously put out.
The reason why the fire was said to be the worst was first the location of the building it was a high rise building located right in the middle of the city making it hard to control it and also hard for firefighters to evacuate civilians in the area since there were a lot of buildings around it and that meant more and more civilians to be evacuated from the vicinity this need a lot of resources. (LAFIRE. COM) Second was that the building was just huge it was a 62 storey building built in the year 1974 its height to the roof was two hundred and sixty two meters and was a square building tapering two meters as it rose.
Its four faces were covered with dark glass and mullions this was certainly an uphill task and not a walk in the park for the firefighters. (Ryszard M. 600) Thirdly it had spread over four floors and damaging a fifth floor resulting to huge property loss it was estimated at over 200 million dollars at that time making it one of the most expensive fires ever in history and the most damaging fire in the city of Los Angeles.
Fourthly it was a fire that almost would have become a towering inferno” as the fire fighters would say and it needed a lot of experience since there was only one way to handle it and it was manual. The Fire The fire is said to have started in the late evening of March 4 1988. It is also said that it all started in an open plan office on the 12th floor towards the southeast ground. It is also said it originated in a modular office with a lot of furniture numerous personal computers and areas or rather “terminals” used by security trading workers.
Though not certain investigators said the cause was an electrical fault but how it got ignited is a big mystery till this very day. (LAFIRE. COM) The fire spread throughout the entire space in the 12th floor destroying it completely leaving only the passenger elevator lobby, which had automatic closing fire doors. The fire then spread through the floors above the 12th floor, mainly by use of the outer walls of the structure through the broken windows the flames also spread behind the spandrel panels that were at the end of the floor blocks.
The windows on the successive floors experienced heavy exposure from the flames making the fire extend to the 16th floor from the 12th floor. The rescue workers estimated the flames were lapping about 30 feet upwards on the faces at the buildings, thus the curtain walls, windows, spandrels and mullions were damaged if not completely destroyed. The building lacked the so called “eyebrows” on the exterior walls to prevent the fire from lapping vertically making the firefighters worried that the fire would spread to even more floors. (Ryszard M. 600)
The minor routes in which the fire extended were poke through penetrations for communications and electricity, HVAC shafts and also heat conduction through floor slabs. As a matter of fact there was a minor fire at the 27th floor started by fire products escaping through HVAC shaft from the 12th floor but it died out due to lack of enough oxygen. (LAFIRE. COM) This fire spread at a rate of about 45 minutes per floor and it burned intensely for about 90 minutes at a time this meant there were always two floors burning seriously at any given time of the fire. Initial Stages of the Fire
The fires initial stages were realized at around 10:22pm in the evening when the buildings two pumps were turned of by the contractor who was making the sprinkler system, a few minutes later they heard shattering of glass and saw a light smoke at the ceiling at the 5th floor they sounded the alarms manually but it was later turned off by security personnel in the ground floor. Minutes later a smoke detector in the floor of origin sounded but was reset again and minutes later other alarms sounded but security personnel shut them off, this continued until the fire then became huge, that was about 15 minutes later.
This delay is said to have caused the spreading of the fire on the 12th and 13th floor. The calls about the fire were actually made by people outside the building. (Arthur E. 543) The fire departments start of operations The fire department got three calls at around 10. 37 pm from people who were said outside the first interstate bank building and they reported seeing a fire on the upper floors. The department released a category “B” assignment group which included task forces 9, and 10, squad 4, Battalion 1 and Engine 3 all of them totaling about 30 fire fighters and rescue personnel.
Meanwhile the first reporting of the fire from inside the interstate building was called in at about 10:41 just when the first fire companies were arriving at the scene of the incident. Upon arriving at the scene the first Battalion chief called immediately for five task forces, five engine companies and another five battalion chiefs totaling about 200 rescue workers and firefighters within the first five minutes, two firefighting helicopters from the fire department were also sent in to help. (Arthur E. 543)
They set up a “high rise incident command system” a system in which companies were given a plan on who to attack the fire, assemble the logistics and help in other support functions. The fire fighters were not to use the elevators thus they climbed using the stairs to the area affected by the fire. The first companies to access the fire floor found that smoke was entering all four stairways through gaps around the exit doors. They had to connect their hand lines to the stair pipe risers of the building and the launched their first attack at around 11:10.
Since the fire was so large they had to attack from all four stairways but still the fire crews had much difficulty advancing through the doors in to the floor as heat and smoke pushed in to the stair shaft as soon as they opened the doors and it rose rapidly to the upper floors of the interstate building. (LAFIRE. COM) The first six companies that arrived at the scene of the fire did this attack. This attack was slowed down at first due to the low pressure of water in the first minutes; this was until the buildings fire pumps were started.
They also supplied water with three fire department pumps through exterior hose connections. On the 10th floor they put up a staging area and also started lobby control at the ground floor. The base of operation was about a block south of the building and it was established by the first battalion chief at the scene, it was the place where the incident commander operated from all through the incident. The operations chief operated in the “staging area” located in the 10th floor close enough to have direct contact with the officers on each floor he would also be directing the interior suppression efforts.
(Cliff B. 75) The command positions were led at first by captains and Battalion chiefs but were later were later given to those in higher ranks but the remained only now working under other officers in the same locations they had headed. The deputy chief of Los Angeles City fire department Chief Donald F Anthony was the incident commander once he arrived. A chief Engineer and General Manager were also present in order to help in the strategic planning for the incident.
Even with this it was clear from the outside and also from the inside that the fire was spreading upward and fast; thus the need to expand operations as “the companies successfully launched attacks from all four stair ways on to the four floors engulfed by the fire and had to fight their way into the floors with hand lines. (LAFIRE. COM) The Conditions in the stair shafts worsened since more doors were opened and heat and smoke filled went up the shafts at the same time water was pouring down. Their tactic was to push the fire from the center to the perimeters of each floor.
The operations chief had to communicate with command officer’s assigned floors giving them direction with tactics and also sending assignments of new companies or recycled ones to specific targets of operation. Many companies undertook three to four different assignments at a time since conditions were changing during the incident therefore getting very short breaks even for the changing of air cylinders. They used mostly runners to communicate with officers in the upper floors since radio waves affected the building steel frame. The landline phones were dead due to the fire and even the emergency phone system in the building was not useful.
But the staging area and command past communicated through a window they broke and a battalion chief stood there with a radio to provide line-of-sight. (LAFIRE. COM) The strategy was to stop upward progress by being aggressive on the 14th and 15th floors while putting up hose lines in order to wait for the fire to reach the 16th floor. These strategies needed extreme efforts by the hand line crews on the heavily involved stories. They used around 20 hand lines in the attack and it was an effort of around 32 companies working on the five floors. (Cliff B. 75) Logistical Considerations.
The logistics were staggering . The 10th floor was where personnel and equipment were located. Crews only came down to the staging area to change their air cylinders while waiting and getting a short rest before reassignment to another floor. They attacked with full air cylinders and came down only when they ran out of air. They operated for about 20 minutes a cycle, which was the same amount at time it took to rest and refill air cylinders. (LAFIRE. COM) Since they did not use elevators each piece of equipment was carried manually up the stairways including the over 600 air cylinders used.
The crews entering the building carried hose nozzles and many other tools themselves to the tenth floor. (Cliff B. 75) An operation called the stairwell support consisting of nine companies moved equipment from the street level via an underground tunnel to the lobby from a parking lot across the street and then up again to the staging area for over two hours. The crews working in the lower floors including the 10th worked in harsh conditions since smoke filled them and they had to break windows for ventilation.
Water poured down through the stairs and the ceilings and electric power even in the emergency lights in the stairs were lost. Not even flashlights helped since their batteries died a testament on how long the operation took. (Arthur E. 543) Search and Rescue missions The building had around 50 people working on the floors above the 12th floor, where the fire started, most of whom were cleaning and maintenance workers. The rest were sprinkle fitters and a couple tenants who were working late. They only became aware when smoke entered their area of work.
Five of the civilians went to the rooftop floors and were rescued by fire department choppers. Most used the elevator and stairways successfully but there was one group that got trapped in the 12th floor and had to crawl to the exit stairway meeting up with the firefighters coming up. (Arthur E. 543) All civilians left apart from three people, two on the 37th floor and one on the 50th floor they were located by the windows using helicopters but were only rescued shortly after the fire was put off at around 2:19 am.
of the two in the 37th floor one had fainted therefore had to be carried down using the stairs to ground level. (Arthur E. 543) Damage and property loss incurred The floors below had severe water damage due to the water flowing down while those above were distorted badly by the heat and smoke since during the incident there was no efforts preserve of property because firefighters only wanted to stop progress of the fire. (LAFIRE. COM) The building remained closed for many months for inspection and clean up using up a large force of clean up contractors.
Property loss in overall was estimated to about 200 million dollars not counting the many months of business interruption. Structural damage was very low on the main structural members as a matter of fact only minor damage to a secondary beam and a few floor pans was noted. (Ryszard M. 600) Valuable Lessons • First lessons learned were the need for automatic sprinklers in controlling or preventing fires in such kind of high-rise buildings. There was a law enacted in Los Angeles asking that all such buildings should have a sprinkler system in all their floors with installed smoke detectors.
• The second was the need for firefighters to maintain high physical fitness like in that case fire fighters had to carry everything up the stairs and every thing was completely manual even sending of messages. • Need for efficient communication systems (LAFIRE. COM) • Personnel in buildings should be trained at the appropriate actions when alarm is sounded. The actions of the personnel of the building were wanting and one of them died while attempting to find out was sounded the alarms. • Need for use of fire resisting construction in this case it was good and thus prevented any major damage to the structural integrity of the building.
(Columbia University. 1234) • There is also need for protected elevators for firefighters use what if the firefighters had to combat a fire in the 40th storey it would have been very hard to carry equipments. Columbia University. 1234) • Fire protection systems also need to be checked and tested regularly in order to ensure they work properly and will not waste us in times of need. Conclusion Every body has a role to play from the builder to the tenant to ensure that such disasters do not occur and if they do that they are easily dealt with stressing a need for good planning. Work cited Arthur E.
Cote: Organizing for Fire And Rescue Services: Jones and Bartlett Publishers (2003) P260-278 Cliff Barnett: Fire Safety in Tall Buildings: McGraw-Hill Inc. , New York, 1992. P73-82 Columbia University: Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals Avery Library, (1975) Ryszard M. Kowalczyk, I. D. : Bennett’s Structural Systems for Tall Buildings: McGraw Hill Inc. , New York, 1995 LAFIRE. COM: First Interstate Bank Fire: Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive, May 4, 1988: Accessed on 26th April 2008 from http://www. lafire. com/famous_fires/880504_1stInterstateFire/050488_InterstateFire. htm
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