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On Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011, a four-alarm fire destroyed one historic building and severely damaged another in downtown Iowa City, IA. That the fire was controlled and extinguished with fire spread to only one other building was fortunate considering how close the buildings were to one another. Also, the fact that no firefighters were injured during the operation was a major success. While the Iowa City Fire Department rarely has fires of this magnitude, continual training, using incident command/management on every scene, and having a mutual aid system, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and standard operating guidelines (SOGs) in place prepared department members to handle almost any situation that confronts them.
The fire destroyed a two-story, type III, ordinary-construction building dating from 1910 with an addition that was built in 1983. The basement contained 2,475 square feet of space used for storage, the first floor contained 3,000 square feet used for retail operations and the second floor contained 2,475 square feet of space divided into four apartments. The building contained single-station, local smoke alarms in the second-floor apartments and hallways.
The Iowa City Fire Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire at Bruegger’s Bagels at 225 Iowa Ave. at 2:16 A.M. The fire was initially reported by a resident of a second-floor apartment reporting an odor of smoke. Responding on the initial alarm were Engines 1 and 22 and Truck 1, a 100-foot aerial platform, under the command of Battalion Chief Brian Greer. Based on additional information received by the dispatcher, the remaining on-duty engine, Engine 11, was also dispatched. Thirteen firefighters responded on the initial alarm.
The crew members of the first-arriving unit, Engine 1, observed a heavy, black column of smoke above the building. Engine 1 was positioned at the A/D corner of the building on Iowa Avenue. Engine 1 was supplied with a 150-foot, five-inch line from a University of Iowa hydrant. Truck 1 was positioned behind Engine 1 at the A/D corner of the building. Truck 1 was supplied with a 200-foot, five-inch line from a municipal hydrant on Iowa Avenue, west of the scene. Engine 22 was initially positioned in front of Engine 1 and provided the supply lines used by Engine 1 and Truck 1. Engine 11 was positioned at the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Linn Street.
Three crews were inside the structure performing fire attack and search operations. The three-person crew from Engine 1 advanced a 200-foot, 1¾-inch line to the second floor for possible fire attack and to protect search and rescue operations. Truck 1’s three-person crew was searching on the second floor in conjunction with Engine 1’s crew. Engine 22’s three-person crew advanced a 200-foot, 1¾-inch line from Engine 1 into the ground-level commercial occupancy, Bruegger’s Bagels. Engine 22’s crew encountered flames through an exterior vent and noticed flames inside the rear of the structure and applied water to darken down this area.
Shortly after firefighters opened the exterior door on the D side and entered the structure, a smoke explosion occurred, driving Engine 22’s crew out of the structure and back toward the street. When the smoke explosion occurred, the whole D side of the building disappeared in a smoke cloud along with Engine 1, which was on the street in front of the A/D corner. Greer ordered all crews out of the building and a personnel accountability report (PAR) was initiated by command. Interior operations lasted approximately 12 minutes.