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
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
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
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
4. Incident Command System is critical for a large,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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