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Interstate Bank Building Fire Los Angeles, California (May 4, 1988)
On Wednesday, May 4 and continuing in to May 5, 1988, the Los Angeles City Fire Department responded to and extinguished the most challenging and difficult high-rise fire in the city's history. The fire destroyed four floors and damaged a fifth floor of the modern 62 story First Interstate Bank building in downtwon L.A., claimed one life, injured approximately 35 occupants and 14 fire personnel, and resulted in a property loss of over $50 million.

This was one of the most destructive high-rise fires in recent United States history. The fire presented the greatest potential for the "Towering Inferno" scenario of any U.S. fire experience and was controlled only through the massive and dedicated manual fire suppression efforts large metropolitan fire department. It demonstrated the absolute need automatic sprinklers to provide protection for tall buildings.


SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES

I s s u e s  Comments
Occupancy      62-story high-rise office building.

Construction 

 

Steel frame; exterior of glass and aluminum. 

Unusually good application of fire resistive coating helped maintain structural integrity in fire. 

Delayed Reporting

Building security and maintenance personnel delayed notifying Fire Department for 15 minutes after first evidence of fire.

Smoke detectors on several floors had been activated and reset a number of times before reporting to Fire Department.

A maintenance employee died while trying to investigate source of alarms prior to calling Fire Department.

Automatic Fire Sprinklers

Sprinkler system was installed in 90 percent of the building, including on fire floors; valves controlling the systems had been closed, awaiting installation of water-flow alarms.

Interior Design and Contents 

 

Large open area with readily combustible contents contributed to quick fire growth.

System Failures 

Main fire pumps had been shut down, reducing available water pressure for initial attack.

Radio communications were overtaxed and disrupted by building's steel frame.

Fire and water damaged telephone

circuits making them unusable.

Sound-powered emergency phone system in building was ineffective.

BUILDING DESCRIPTION
THE FIRE
INITIAL STAGES
FIRE DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS
EXPANDING OPERATIONS
LOGISTICS
SEARCH AND RESCUE
FALLING GLASS
SPRINKLERS AND STANDPIPE SYSTEM
ELEVATORS
SALVAGE AND PROPERTY LOSS
LESSONS LEARNED

 

 
 
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