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La Posada Hotel Fire Texas,Technical Report


The La Posada fire demonstrated once again the value of smoke detectors in providing early, life-saving warning of fire. A working detector and the quick response of the fire department coupled with their tactical decision to focus manpower on safely evacuating the occupants were the main, positive lessons drawn from this fire. These points are discussed below:

Smoke Detectors Are Critical for Life Safety

Not once but twice the smoke detector in Room 123 alerted the occupant to a developing emergency. Unwise actions by the occupant and lack of a suitable response by the hotel's night employees after the first warning led to a rekindling of the mattress and the need for the second sounding of the detector. Given some of the other conditions present, e.g. lack of an alarm system, unenclosed/inadequately enclosed stairways, and the late hour the fire occurred (guests were sleeping and unaware), the losses in all likelihood would have far exceeded the one injury and $150,000 damage had it not been for the presence of a working detector. Ironically, the detector was not properly located. It had been installed (as had the other guest room detectors) in the return air plenum, rather than on the ceiling of the room. Moreover, the detector was a battery-operated type, not hard wired to the electrical system as is preferred for this type of occupancy.

Fire Officer Decision to Make Evacuation the Priority Lessened Risk of Greater Losses

The decision to assign 10 of 11 of the personnel on the first-arriving units to alert and evacuate occupants probably averted additional civilian casualties. Since there was no alarm system in the building, firefighters had to go door-to-door, a time-consuming job, before sleeping occupants could be awakened and helped to safety. The rapid spread of smoke escalated the danger, and more casualties might have occurred had the occupants not been warned to get out. As more units arrived, another 25 firefighters became available to rescue and evacuate people. Eight firefighters from one of the three mutual aid companies that responded also were assigned rescue duties. In retrospect it would have been a good idea for firefighters to have gotten master keys at the outset so they could have alerted guests more quickly and avoided kicking in the guest room doors. (Keys were obtained after awhile.) Nevertheless, firefighters otherwise showed awareness of proper procedures, e.g. they propped open doors of rooms already evacuated, established a check-point, oversaw the return to rooms and occupants' removal of their belongings, etc.

What lessons can be learned about areas for improvement? Most of the problems centered around certain building features and human behaviors that contributed to the start and spread of the fire. There are a number of key factors under both headings that should be examined.Improper/Inadequate Building Features Helped Spread FireOnce again we see the impact that building features can have either incontaining or aiding the spread of fire and smoke. Among the more seriousproblems were:

Guest room doors did not have automatic closures and were constructed of wood. The door to the room of origin was left open.

Stairways leading to the second and third levels were not enclosed or were inadequately enclosed. Smoke spread through them.

There was no central fire alarm system. Occupants had to be alerted by firefighters going door-to-door. There were no automatic sprinklers. Fortunately, fire-resistiveconstruction and low fire load in the corridor helped check the spread of flames.

A few rooms on the first floor had burglar bars installed over the exterior window. However, the Fire Department stated that the bars were easily removed and did not hamper rescue. Obviously, burglar bars are an impediment to emergency egress and when installed should have a clearly identified emergency egress release which occupants can use in an emergency. Such release devices are required by current codes.

Lack of Awareness of Fire Safety Rules Caused the Fire and Prevented Early Extinguishment

Human carelessness caused the La Posada fire. The occupant of Room 123 broke one of the cardinal rules in fire safety -- not to smoke in bed

Back to La Posada Hotel Fire Texas,Technical Report Main Page


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