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Interstate Bank Building Fire;


1. Sprinkler system: Use the protection ASAP.

The value of automatic sprinklers in quickly controlling fire and preventing fires of this magnitude must be emphasized. If the sprinkler system had been activated as floors were completed, the fire probably would have been controlled in minutes with minor damage. As buildings are constructed, renovated, or demolished, sprinklers should be kept operational on all the floors possible. Many fires occur during these stages of the life cycles of buildings, and they often are severe.

The City of Los Angeles contains over 750 high-rise buildings, approximately 450 of which are not protected by automatic sprinklers. This fire provided the lesson that was necessary to have a retroactive sprinkler installation requirement adopted by the City Council.

2. Unsprinklered high-rise fires create massive manpower requirements.

The fire took advantage of a large open area, with readily combustible contents, to quickly reach major proportions. This combined with an available path for vertical spread to create a situation that taxed a large, well equipped, and experienced fire department to its maximum. Many potentially serious problems arose, such as failing standpipe valves and delayed activation of building fire pumps. A fire department without the resources, capabilities , and experience of the Los Angeles City Fire Department would have great difficulty controlling upward extension, if faced with the same circumstances.

3. High danger to firefighters was mitigated by physical fitness, good personal safety equipment, and safety training.

The fact that almost 400 Fire Department members operated on this fire, with only 14 minor injuries, is a credit to the training and physical fitness of Los Angeles firefighters and the safety procedures that were employed. The use of protective hoods was found to be very effective in preventing burns and allowing firefighters to penetrate into the involved fire floors.

4. Incident Command System is critical for a large, complex fire.

The High Rise Incident Command System was very effective in managing the incident. Despite the massive numbers of companies and firefighters on the scene, the Fire Department maintained good organization at the scene and effectively -- and safely -- managed their resources. The Los Angeles City Fire Department is to be commended for its extraordinarily low injury rate at this fire.

5. Communications within and from a steel frame building still can be a problem.

The difficulties that were experienced with radio communications will require additional attention. An operation of this magnitude involves a high demand for communications capacity. In addition, the sound powered. telephone system was found to be inadequate (and completely compromised when the system wires melted). The Los Angeles City Fire Department is in the process of installing an 18 Channel 800 MHz radio system to address these problems.

6. Radio communications can easily be overloaded without strict radiodiscipline and an adequate number of channels.

One of the major problems was the over usage of fire ground radio channels. Also, communications from the air operations and medical groups interfered with interior tactical communications.

7. Building personnel must be trained to take appropriate actions when alarms are activated.

The actions of building security and maintenance personnel in the first minutes of this incident are a cause for concern. The alarm was delayed in reaching the Fire Department, occupants of the building were not notified of the fire, and a life was lost while building personnel attempted to verify the source of the alarms.

8. Fire-resistive structures can maintain structural integrity if built w e l l .

The structural integrity of the building was a concern during and after the fire. Analysis revealed that no significant damage occurred to major structural elements. Part of this credit must go to the unusually good application of fire resisting materials on support members. The effects of this magnitude of fire on a less protected structure must be considered in plans review, inspections during construction, and developing codes.

9. Protected elevators are needed for fire service use.

The lack of elevators for delivering firefighter personnel and equipment was a problem in this fire, although it occurred at a relatively low level in the building. If firefighters had to climb 50 stories instead of 15, the problems would have been compounded. This points to the need for carefully planning higher level operations. Different elevator banks may allow limited use of elevators that do not open on any involved floors.

10. Smoke in stairways is still a problem.

The concept of maintaining at least one stairway free of smoke, to be used for evacuation, proved ineffective in this incident. This concept may be valid for a less severe fire, but when the fire reaches this magnitude all vertical shafts become potential chimneys. The ventilated vestibule design failed to keep heat and smoke out of the pressurized smoke tower.

11. Fire departments should develop contingency plans that contemplate the failure of systems to perform as designed, especially for major buildings.

Fire departments must contemplate operating in buildings where fixed fire protection and other systems fail to operate as planned. If the individual with specific knowledge of the building fire pumps had not arrived at the Command Post, the pumps might have remained inoperative. The fire also disrupted HVAC systems, communications, and electrical power supplies beyond previous experience with high-rise fires.

12. Vertical and horizontal fire spread can still be rapid in modern buildings without sprinklers and without adequate compartmentation.

Vertical fire spread and fire development in open floor areas were major factors in this incident. The floor of origin might not have become involved as quickly if it had been divided into smaller offices, providing for more rapid control of the fire. Exterior features of building design can be provided to reduce the risk of vertical flame impingement. Automatic sprinklers are usually effective in dealing with both of these concerns.

13. Old Lesson: Fire protection systems need to be tested regularly.

All components of fixed fire protection systems, including items such as pressure reducing valves, must be regularly inspected and tested. The problems encountered with the standpipe pressure reducing valves in this building could have had a crippling effect on fire suppression efforts.

14. Falling glass is a special hazard in high-rise fires.

This has been a common problem at major high-rise fires such as the Prudential fire in Boston. Large sheets of glass can act as guillotines. The existence of a tunnel for safe entry of personnel was fortuitous in t h i s f i r e . Plans for new high-rises should be reviewed for protected access by emergency personnel. Pre-fire plans for existing high-rises should be reviewed as to how the local fire department would cope with this hazard.

15. A major high-rise fire requires a heavy commitment of personnel to logistics functions.

The L.A. Department had thought in terms of a 3 to 1 ratio between support troops and firefighting troops. The ratio needed turned out to be considerably less than that at 1 to 1, but still high.

16. "Fire-proof" vaults worked well to save valuable papers.

An estimated $100 million in stocks and bonds were successfully protected in a fire-proof vault exposed to the fire.

17. Building security personnel must be trained to promptly report fires.

The security personnel are believed to have silenced the alarm systems and wasted time in going to investigate the source of the smoke alarm. This not only resulted in a fatality but undoubtedly led to the fire being much larger by the time it was reported to the Fire Department. The chain of alarms being set off was still not recognized as possibly a rapidly spreading, large fire. This is not the first high-rise where security personnel have exhibited similar behavior. Fire departments should stress the importance of prompt reporting and remind building owners of the risks that are involved in delayed reporting -- including litigation. Fire departments should also consider requiring automatic alarms to transmit to Central Station Monitoring Systems.


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