Box 495, 15th & Chestnut Sts.
By NATALIE POMPILIO
Philadelphia Daily News
When Jack Bloomer and the other firefighters arrived at One Meridian Plaza that cold February night in 1991, flames were encompassing the building more than 20 stories above, leaping from floor to floor. Smoke poured into the air, and broken glass rained down.
"It was obvious when we pulled up it was an ugly-looking job," Bloomer, 61, remembered yesterday.
He had no idea how bad it would get.
By the time the 12-alarm fire was declared under control 19 hours later, three firefighters were dead, 12 others were injured and a Center City high-rise was lost. The blaze, 20 years ago today, changed the city's skyline and the way the nation fights fires.
"When that fire happened, it was on the news all over the world," said Chris Jelenewicz, engineering program manager at the Maryland-based Society of Fire Protection Engineers. "The One Meridian fire was one of the most significant fires in the history of high-rise buildings."
The fire changed Bloomer, who was driving Engine 11 that night. With him were Capt. David Holcombe and Firefighters Phyllis McAllister and James Chappell.
Bloomer's the only one who made it home.
"I still think about it," Bloomer said. "I wonder, what if I'd been one of the guys inside? Would I have done what they did? It could have been me.
"It's not something you'll ever get over. It's always in the back of my mind."
That night, Bloomer recalls, "was a regular night at the firehouse" at 6th and South streets. Dinner was done, and he, McAllister and Chappell were shooting pool. The call came in about 8:30 p.m.
The fire had started on the 22nd floor, where a pile of oily rags left behind by a cleaning crew had ignited. Flames quickly spread upward. There were no sprinklers until the 30th floor.
When the platoon arrived at the scene, Bloomer's job was to stay with the truck because he was the driver. He began hooking up a hose to a hydrant at 15th and Chestnut while the other three climbed the stairs. There were no drawn-out goodbyes: Everyone had a job to do.
"It was one of those things that was understood," said Bloomer, who is now entering his 36th year as a firefighter and is assigned to Battalion 4, at 4th and Arch streets.
The trio ascending the stairs soon ran into trouble. About10 p.m., Holcombe radioed commanders that the team had become disoriented in heavy smoke on the 30th floor. A short time later, McAllister radioed that the captain was down and that the firefighters were out of air.
Two rescue teams were dispatched. By chance, Bloomer had overheard both calls. Still, he never thought that his buddies weren't coming down alive.
Only later, after the bodies had been removed from the scene, did he learn that they had been found dead on the 28th floor.
"Nobody knew how to tell me," Bloomer said. "I was the only one left from my platoon."
The Meridian fire was one of the most significant high-rise building fires before 9/11, said Jelenewicz, of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. It changed the way that fire codes were written, pointing out inefficiencies in the fire-protection design.
Some of the changes that stemmed from the tragedy were simple ones, he said: Stairwells were marked with floor numbers so that anyone inside could tell where they were. On the night of the Meridian fire, the team had become disoriented and reported that they were on the 30th when they were in fact on the 28th.
Other changes were more significant, like calling for sprinkler systems on every floor of a high-rise.
"The whole nation looked at this fire and learned from it," Jelenewicz said.
A memorial to the lost firefighters now stands outside the Residences at the Ritz Carlton, where the Meridian once towered. It features three firefighter helmets on a granite base and the words: "To sacrifice one's own safety in the service of others requires a courage that is rare. Those among us who do are true heroes."
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02-23-2011, 08:12 AM #1
20 years ago toda- One Meridian Plaza"Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."
02-23-2011, 08:14 AM #2
Saturday, February 23, 1991, "A", "D" Platoons, F.C.C. Platoon 2, 4, 1
8:27 P.M. - Box 495 - 15th & Chestnut Streets
Sq.43, Engine 1, 20(LDH), 11, Ladder 9, Snorkel 5, B.C. 5,4
8:29 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Medic 7
8:34 P.M. - 2nd Alarm, b/o B.C.5
Sq.8, Engine 10, 24, 44, 13(LC), Ladder 23, B.C.3(LO),11
8:37 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Medic 13, D.C.1, Air Unit 2
8:39 P.M. - Special Call, b/o B.C. 5 - Ladder 1
8:47 P.M. - 3rd Alarm, b/o D.C.1
Engine 49(LDH), 40(LDH), 60, B.C.1
8:48 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Chemical 1, 2
8:56 P.M. - 4th Alarm, b/o D.C.1
Engine 5(LDH), 29, 16, 3(LDH), 34(LDH), Air Unit 1
8:58 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Snorkel 2
9:00 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - Medic 21B
9:04 P.M. - Special Call, b/o FCC - B.C.8, Medic 25B
9:05 P.M. - 5th Alarm, b/o D.C.1
Engine 33, 27, 53, 25, Light Wagon 1 w/Ladder 11
9:55 P.M. - 6th Alarm, b/o Car 1
Engine 12, 22, 50(LDH), 59, Medic 3
10:00 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - ES-10
10:23 P.M. - 7th Alarm, b/o Car 1
Sq.57, Engine 63, 14, 28(LDH)
10:37 P.M. - 8th Alarm, b/o Car 1
Engine 61(LDH), Sq.9, Engine 56, 41, Medic 16, Car 6
10:53 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Pennstar Helicopter from H.U.P.
11:05 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Ladder 13
11:12 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Medic 1
11:30 P.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - B.C. 2, 10
12:01 A.M. - 9th Alarm, b/o Car 1
Engine 38, 66, 45, 68, Ladder 18, Tower Ladder 6
12:30 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - B.C.1102
12:33 A.M. - 10th Alarm, b/o Car 1
Engine 72, 18, 7, 2
12:41 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - D.C.1A
1:09 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Ladder 25
1:21 A.M. - 11th Alarm, b/o Car 1
Engine 71, 35, 103, 119
2:21 A.M. - 12th Alarm, b/o Car 1
Engine 125, 181, 36, 52(LDH)
3:13 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - B.C. 13, 9
3:21 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Medic 15
4:45 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Engine 180(LDH/FTA)
5:30 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Ladder 14, Rescue 1
5:32 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Medic 14
5:41 A.M. - Special Call, b/o Car 1 - Engine 19(LDH)
3:01 P.M. - Fire Under Control, b/o Car 1
Note: LDH = Large Diameter (5") Hose
Rescue 1 had not yet been reactivated as a full-duty company"Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."
02-23-2011, 08:34 AM #3
I remember this happening. I was 7, and I still remember in detail. It was my first realization that Dad might not come home one day. Rest in Peace brothers.Matt G.
02-23-2011, 09:45 AM #4
May our Brothers and Sister rest in peace...
May we heed the lessons learned...
02-23-2011, 10:39 AM #5
I remember it well, like it was last week!
Rest in Peace Brothers.
Stay Safe and Well Out There....
Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers
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