On The Job - Colorado: Fire at Office-Supply Factory Tests Castle Rock Crews

Matt Rettmer details a reported fire in a commercial structure in Castle Rock, CO.


On May 18, 2007, at 10:50 P.M., the Castle Rock, CO, Fire and Rescue Department was dispatched to 701 Topeka Way for a reported fire in a commercial structure. The caller identified himself as an off-duty firefighter and said he could see flames on the roof of a large office-supply factory. The...


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On May 18, 2007, at 10:50 P.M., the Castle Rock, CO, Fire and Rescue Department was dispatched to 701 Topeka Way for a reported fire in a commercial structure. The caller identified himself as an off-duty firefighter and said he could see flames on the roof of a large office-supply factory.

The fire presented some unusual challenges to firefighters. Four LPG tanks exploded before the first units arrived. These tanks proved to be the main heat source, damaging the roof and causing spot fires throughout the plant. The maze-like layout of the interior proved to be dangerous to interior companies -- and hundreds of stuffed animals and other artifacts, including a 14-foot great white shark, had been mounted on walls and suspended from the ceiling.

Castle Rock is 10 miles south of Denver. The fire department covers approximately 75 square miles and provides automatic aid for the all-volunteer Jackson 105 Fire Protection District, which covers 120 square miles, including Pike National Forest. Daily staffing is 17 to 19 firefighters per shift covering four firehouses, each with a lieutenant and two to three firefighters. One battalion chief oversees daily operations with an on-duty division chief assisting at larger incidents.

The building, constructed in 1984, was a Type II (fire-resistive) light-manufacturing facility 250 feet long and 200 feet wide and of concrete tilt-slab construction with a double-T roof assembly. The building was not sprinklered and did not have a monitored fire alarm system. The occupant, Unified Packing Inc., manufactured custom three-ring binders, professional-grade folders and binders, and other office materials. The building also had a two-story office area. In addition, about one-quarter of the facility housed hundreds of museum-grade stuffed animals and other artifacts, including the great white shark as well as tigers, lions, elk, deer and bears.

The manufacturing area was a cluster of machines, desks and products. The area was a maze-like floor plan that made sense only to the employees of the plant. Firefighters most certainly would have lost their way if they lost the hoseline or became separated from their crews. High-rack storage was also a concern as it stretched 30 feet from floor to ceiling and was filled from bottom to top with products. Wood pallets were used for shelving and to create walkways between racks. Reams upon reams of paper, vinyl and other materials were stored on the racks. A mezzanine ran around two inside walls (A/D) and was used for storage of products and artifacts.

Battalion Chief 151 (BC 151) arrived with Engines 151 and 154 and Medics 151 and 154. The chief reported a "two-story commercial occupancy with smoke and fire showing from roof A/B corner." He established Topeka Command and positioned his vehicle 150 feet from the A/B corner. Engine 154 laid in a five-inch supply line from a hydrant and positioned on the B side of the building with direct access to the loading docks. (As crews made entry, this was the location of the main body of fire found in the building). The Engine 154 crew (the officer and a probationary firefighter) then deployed a 2½-inch attack line to the B side, where they forced a metal, outward-swinging door and encountered heavy smoke to the floor and numerous spot fires in the immediate area. (It is standard protocol for the department to deploy 2½-inch attack line on all commercial fires. This quick attack with a large hoseline proved to be effective in saving the majority of the contents.) The fire attack was initiated from the doorway, while the engineer set up two ground ladders on the B-side second-floor windows.

As Engine 154 was conducting the initial fire attack, Quint 155 positioned the aerial on the A/B corner and prepared to go to the roof for ventilation. As the aerial was being set, the officer and firefighter threw a 35-foot ground ladder to the roof on the A side. The Quint 155 crew (officer, engineer and firefighter) made access to the roof with ventilation equipment (K12, chain saw, three hooks). The flat roof had a rock base over a rubber membrane. It was unclear at the time what type of roof assembly was underneath, and crews inside could not see the roof construction due to heavy smoke.

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