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Interstate Bank Building Fire;

EXPANDING OPERATIONS

It soon became evident from the exterior and the interior that the fire was spreading upward. Companies successively launched attacks from all four stairways onto the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th floors, often encountering heavy fire from the point of entry and having to fight their way onto the floors with handlines. At times active suppression efforts were underway simultaneously on four levels as crews attempted to push the fire back from the central core to the perimeter of each floor. As more doors were opened, conditions in the stairways deteriorated with heat and smoke going up and water cascading down. (Appendix D shows a vertical cross-section of the building and the fire floors.)

The Operations Chief communicated with the Command Officers assigned to the floors above, directing tactical activities and making assignments of fresh or recycled companies to specific floors and stairways. Several companies handled three or four different firefighting assignments as conditions changed during the incident, with only short breaks to change air cylinders at the 10th floor Staging Area.

The Operations Chief relied primarily on runners to communicate with the floors above because radio communications were overtaxed and disrupted by the building's steel frame. In order to communicate with the Incident Commander, who was located on the street level, a window was broken out and a Battalion Chief stood at the opening with a portable radio to provide line-of-sight communications between the 10th floor and the Command Post. Attempts to use regular telephone service were unsuccessful due to fire and water damage to telephone circuits. An installed sound-powered emergency phone system, linking all floors with the lobby, also proved to be inadequate.

The strategy employed to stop the upward progress of the fire was to use aggressive tactics on the 14th and 15th floors to reduce the fire's intensity and the resulting exposure to floors above, while setting-up with hoselines and waiting for the fire to attack the 16th floor. This strategy proved to be successful but required extreme efforts by crews operating handlines on heavily involved floors, with as many as four floors burning below them. Approximately 20 handlines were used by 32 attack companies on the five involved floors.

 

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