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St. George Hotel Fire Report
1995

LESSONS LEARNED AND REINFORCED

1. Updated pre-fire plans provide critical information regarding the configuration and condition of buildings within a complex. Pre-fire Plans had been developed for this area in the past but may not have been up to date. The Incident Commander did not have the information that three buildings had been consolidated into one. This caused some confusion but did not significantly effect the outcome of the incident. The standpipe in the fire building was out of service. The Fire Department has a tagging system to indicate that a standpipe or sprinkler system is out of service. This system had been vandalized since the last inspection.

2. Walking all perimeters of the fire scene can provide information regarding exposures and conditions, and assist in the effective placement of firefighting resources. Because of the confusion about the configuration of the buildings in the complex, the Incident Commander sent a Battalion Chief to scout the area to obtain specific information. This put an end to the inconsistent reports the Command Post was receiving and allowed confident placement of resources.

3. Aggressive resource staging can minimize the loss and assist with occupant location, evacuation and protection, as well as improving firefighter safety. The Incident Commander stated that whenever a problem came up he called an additional alarm. The outcome of the incident was much more positive because the Incident Commander readily brought additional personnel to the scene. Due to the size and location of the fire there was great potential for large loss of life and significantly more property damage than actually occurred. The initial Incident Commander had knowledge of what equipment was on the way as well as what equipment was needed. Making special calls for specific equipment, such as extra tower ladders, almost enabled extinguishment of the fire at the second alarm level.

4. Specialized units contribute to an effective fire attack. Many of the component parts of the Incident Command System were preassigned in this fire. Comcord, Maxi-Water and the Safety Battalion are examples of these components. These specialized units were trained to assume responsibility for a
very focused and defined task. This well-defined area of responsibility was assigned to the specialized unit. The Incident Commander was confident that work expected from a unit was exactly the work the unit expected to perform.


5. Pre-assigned radio frequencies and an orderly way to switch to them are vital to success. One of the biggest problems in a large incident is usually communications. By necessity, there is a sizable volume of radio traffic. Dispatch or main frequencies will quickly be overloaded if provisions are not made early in an incident to organize radio traffic. By promptly establishing two tactical and one command channel in addition to the dispatch frequency, the ComCord maintained control of communications.

6. Radio discipline, regardless of the number of fire ground radio channels available, should be emphasized by officers and companies.
Operating 100 pieces of apparatus and 700 firefighting personnel, most of which had hand held radios, on two tactical channels and one command channel required discipline and vigilance. The command officers had aides able to monitor tactical radio communication. Companies kept their radio communications to a minimum so emergency traffic and important information could be passed on

7. Gain control of the elevators early in the fire. Certain vital building systems need special attention to assure safe operation during a fire. Elevators are one of these systems. The elevators were abandoned on the upper floors of the Tower Building early on during the incident. As a result, subsequent companies had to climb the stairs to reach their operating areas. When the problem was relayed to a chief, a company was assigned to retrieve the elevator and operate it for the duration of the incident. If the elevators are controlled early, crews can safely use them for transportation and they will be less fatigued when they reach their operating areas.

8. Routine inspections and up-to-date pre-incident plans can identify compromised fire protection systems. A lot of time was spent by the first-in companies advancing to the fire floor believing they would be able to operate from the standpipe. If the inoperable state of the standpipe had been known, an alternative way of supplying water to the fire floor could have been employed, saving valuable time when it was most needed. The disabled
standpipe may have been found during a routine inspection. A pre-incident plan must be continuously updated, as building conditions can change. Inspections should be performed on a regular basis so those changes can be reflected on the pre-incident plans.

9. Using the Department’s Incident Command System (ICS) permitted this complex fire ground to be managed to a successful conclusion without loss of life or serious injury to civilians or firefighters. The first-in companies and battalion chief followed the Department’s Standard Operating Procedures. ICS was established from the beginning of the incident and functioned through command changes, command post relocation and separation of the fire ground into two branches, each with multiple sectors. The experience and familiarity of the command and company officers with ICS was evident during this incident. The large fire area and congested exposures required a concentrated and coordinated effort that effective ICS supports.

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