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The main portion of the vacant structure was constructed in the late 1800s of heavy timber and brick. Several additions were made to the factory over the years. The present complex consisted of 13 interconnected buildings with more than 1 million square feet of space. At the time of the fire, the building was vacant with no utilities. The fire alarm and sprinkler systems were inoperative.
The Cleveland Fire Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire at the Cleveland Chair factory at 9th Street SE and King Edward Avenue at 4:33 A.M. Engines 1 and 3, both 2,000-gpm pumpers; Ladder 4, a 75-foot quint with a 1,500-gpm pump; and Squad 1 responded with 12 firefighters under the command of Battalion Chief Buddy Smith.
First-arriving units found heavy fire in the A/B sector along 9th Street. No interior operations were initiated due to the advanced state of the fire and because the building was vacant. Engine 1 was positioned on the A sector of the building on 9th Street and Engine 3 was positioned on the C sector, supplied with a 650-foot, five-inch line. Engine 3 set up a portable monitor and also placed two 1¾-inch handlines into operation. Ladder 4 was positioned at the A/B sector and supplied with a 1,000-foot, five-inch line. This unit was set up for aerial master stream operations. There was a partial collapse of the building within minutes of the first-arriving apparatus.
Smith requested a second alarm at 4:42 A.M. Ladder 1, a 105-foot aerial platform with a 1,500-gpm pump; Engines 4 and 5, both 1,500-gpm pumpers; Engine 2, a 2,000-gpm pumper, Arson Investigator Donnie Sullivan and Fire Chief Steve Haun responded.
Ladder 1 was positioned on the B sector and supplied with a 300-foot, five-inch line. This unit was set up for aerial master stream operations. Engine 4 was positioned in the B sector in staging. Engine 5 was positioned in the D sector and supplied with a 500-foot, five-inch line, and then placed its deck gun into operation. Engine 2 was assigned to the B sector and also placed its deck gun into operation.
Smith requested a third alarm at 4:38 A.M. Fifty-four firefighters responded to the all-off-duty recall. The Bradley County Fire Department was placed on standby at its stations to provide coverage into the city if needed. (The City of Cleveland has an urban fringe contract with Bradley County under which Cleveland responds five miles out of the city.)
With the continued use of two aerial master streams, two deck guns, one portable monitor and two handlines, Captain Ron Harrison, acting as the B-shift battalion chief, declared the fire under control at 8 A.M.
Eighty firefighters operated five engines and two aerials to extinguish the fire. Most Cleveland units were back in service by 8:15 P.M. Some equipment was rotated throughout the next day for overhaul purposes. Temperatures at the time of the fire were in the mid-20s.
A two-day investigation by the Cleveland Arson Division and the Tennessee State Bomb and Arson Division, using accelerant dogs and cadaver dogs, determined it was an incendiary fire. The origin was determined to be in the A/B corner of the building. The fire was most likely caused by homeless persons trying to keep warm, investigators determined. Damage was estimated at $2.5 million to the building and $50,000 to the contents. n