On The Job: FLORIDA

On Jan. 6, 2009, a four-alarm fire destroyed several businesses near the historic Imogene Theater in downtown Milton, FL. The building of origin, the Courthouse Square Professional Mall, was built in 1913 as a Ford dealership, with later additions to...


On Jan. 6, 2009, a four-alarm fire destroyed several businesses near the historic Imogene Theater in downtown Milton, FL. The building of origin, the Courthouse Square Professional Mall, was built in 1913 as a Ford dealership, with later additions to the rear in the 1950s and then later behind the...


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On Jan. 6, 2009, a four-alarm fire destroyed several businesses near the historic Imogene Theater in downtown Milton, FL. The building of origin, the Courthouse Square Professional Mall, was built in 1913 as a Ford dealership, with later additions to the rear in the 1950s and then later behind the adjacent Imogene Theater building.

The building was of ordinary construction — red brick with wood joists. The additions were concrete block structures with lightweight steel joist, all one story except for a small vacant second-floor area 20 feet deep behind the front facade. This area measured less than 1,200 square feet and there was no stair access to the second floor. The building had a flat roof covered with membrane roofing material. The roughly 10,000-square-foot building contained multiple business occupancies with a common ceiling and without rated separation.

This fire is of historic note. Nearly 100 years earlier, on Jan. 31, 1909, at 4:15 A.M., a disastrous fire began on almost the exact spot during a winter gale. The fire spread along the same section of the block and ultimately destroyed 22 buildings on several blocks in the downtown commercial district. Milton had no fire department, water system or firefighting equipment at the time. At 5 A.M., the Pensacola Fire Department was called for assistance. Pensacola firefighters loaded their steam fire engine onto a flatcar and it was brought to Milton by a special train, arriving at 9 A.M. This fire was the impetus for the installation of a system of fire hydrants, the purchase of firefighting equipment and the establishment of the City of Milton Fire Department in 1914.

First Response

The City of Milton Fire Department was dispatched to a commercial structure fire at the Imogene Theater at 6:50 P.M. At the time of the fire, about 10 people were inside.

City of Milton Engine 23, a 1,250-gpm pumper with the on-duty crew of four, and Fire Chief John E. Reble responded along with off-duty personnel. Automatic mutual aid was also dispatched on the initial alarm, including Bagdad Volunteer Fire Department Engine 13, a 1,000-gpm pumper; Skyline Volunteer Fire Department Engine 2201, a 1,250-gpm pumper; and Fire and Emergency Services Gulf Coast (F&ESGC) — Naval Air Station Whiting Field Ladder 24, a 1,000-gpm quint with a 55-foot aerial ladder. The first-alarm assignment brought four engines, a ladder, a rescue, three chief officers and 20 firefighters to the scene.

Engine 23 arrived to find heavy smoke coming from the building at 6860 Caroline St., adjacent to the theater. Engine 23 established a 100-foot, five-inch supply line from the hydrant at Caroline and Elmira streets and positioned at the west corner of the building. Captain Lee Devine established "Caroline Street Command" and conducted a size-up from three sides (south, west and north) and observed heavy, wind-driven smoke from the rear of the building, but no visible flames. An approaching cold front was producing 30-knot winds from the south-southeast.

Three exposures presented additional difficulties for firefighters. Exposure one (adjoining on the Bravo side) was a roughly 18,000-square-foot, two-story business occupancy built between 1913 and 1915 that had been subdivided into multiple tenant spaces. Four large window openings on the second floor were covered by plywood that overlooked the roof of the building of origin. This ordinary-constructed building of reinforced concrete with wooden joists was subdivided into three separate two-story bays by non-fire-rated construction. Each bay was comprised of approximately 3,000 square feet per floor. The entire building had a flat membrane-type roof. The east-bay first floor did not have access to the second floor and was divided into multiple tenant office spaces off of a central corridor. The east-bay second floor was accessible through an interior stairway at a front exterior door at grade and an exterior stairway at rear. The center-bay first floor was subdivided into front (vacant) and rear tenant spaces. The west-bay first floor connected with interior stairs to the west-bay second floor and the adjoining center-bay second floor as common law offices.

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