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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Fire department and insurance company investigators were unable to pinpoint the cause of the fire. Due to the extensive heat and numerous LPG tanks that BLEVE'd, the patterns and point of origin could not be located. After the fire, the building remained empty and the company relocated out of the city.
A month after the incident, a formal post-incident analysis (PIA)/after-action report (AAR) was conducted. All departments that were involved in the incident were present and provided feedback and suggestions for future incidents.
A problem that confronted firefighters involved the main work area, which was confusing and cluttered with machinery, desks and supplies. Hundreds of books and museum materials created narrow and dead-end areas. The maze-like conditions and high-rack storage were of major concern to all companies on the scene. Thermal imaging camera usage was invaluable by the companies inside and afforded them the ability to locate the main body of fire and avoid deploying the initial handline to the wrong area. Discipline by the companies kept them together and let them exit when necessary. Crews did not work off the handlines and did not go too deep into the building. Solid communications by command and companies were the main reasons that no firefighters were lost or trapped.
Coordinated and well-planned vertical ventilation was conducted without getting overzealous and breaking all the skylights. By not drawing the fire to other areas of the building by unnecessary ventilation, the companies inside could better manage the fire conditions and increased their visibility. The use of Fan 3 was necessary in removing the residual smoke and allowing crews to conduct overhaul.
Early transmission of the second and third alarms proved to be essential for additional manpower. Initial companies used three, and some four, air bottles before they could be released to rehab.
A strong ICS/IMS presence was critical in managing the incident. Department members are well trained in ICS/IMS and frequently use it to prepare for the "big one." Everyday use of ICS proved paid off for this rare three-alarm fire.
Among lessons learned:
- Small departments must train on 2Â½-inch handline use and operation. The department trains extensively and can deploy, advance and operate 2Â½-inch hose with three and sometimes just two members. Crews have flowed thousands of gallons of water to teach members how to manage this large handline with minimum staffing. This training paid off for the crews that were interior at this fire.
- Know your district and buildings. Most of the personnel had been in this building, but it had been a long time and the layout and contents had changed. The department conducts company-level inspections that help members get inside more buildings, but it pays to go into the buildings for just routine pre-planning.
- Thermal imagers are invaluable in a large building of this type. Interior companies were effective with their water because they could "see" hot spots and numerous spot fires and so they were able to use the water more effectively. In turn, this reduced the amount of water damage and most of the contents were salvaged.
- A fire involving a large building requires more than one rapid intervention team. At this fire, both teams performed size-ups and monitored the radio traffic for emergencies.
MATT RETTMER is a lieutenant in the Castle Rock, CO, Fire and Rescue Department. He is certified as a NREMT-Paramedic, Colorado Fire Officer I, Fire Instructor I and Hazmat Operations. Rettmer holds an associate's degree in fire science from Red Rocks Community College and a bachelor's degree in fitness/wellness management from Dakota State University.