Fire Guts Maryland Zoological Park

Jay K. Bradish reports on a blaze that included challenges for firefighters, such as wild animals and scarce manpower.


BALTIMORE PIKE VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY Chief: Dan Meredith Personnel: 48 volunteer firefighters Apparatus: One engine-rescue, one tanker, one utility vehicle Population: 1,600 Area: 52 square miles On March 29, 2006, a three-alarm fire destroyed the main exhibit building at a...


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Meredith requested the Maryland State Police Fire Marshal and an additional ambulance from Flintstone to respond at 7:27. LaVale Squad 2 arrived on scene to refill breathing apparatus bottles. LaVale Engine 2 was reassigned to Evitts Creek to establish an additional water supply. Engine 2 drafted with 20 feet of hard suction and pumped an 800-foot supply line to Engine-Tanker 3, which supplied Cumberland Truck 1 with a 100-foot supply line. Truck 1 placed its two aerial master streams into operation as the fire continued to consume the building. Ellsworth was reassigned as water supply officer and LaVale Deputy Fire Chief Adam Miller took over side D operations.

At 10:27, Hancock Engine 53 from Washington County was requested to the scene to assist with overhaul operations. Meredith declared the fire under control at 11:04 A.M. and released several mutual aid departments from the scene. By 1:05 P.M., additional mutual aid departments had been released as the overhaul operations continued.

Only two reptiles were found alive during overhaul. Two 3½-foot-long alligators survived the fire by taking refuge in the water. Attempts were made to revive other animals by firefighters and members of the LaVale Volunteer Rescue Squad, but proved futile. The last Baltimore Pike engine and crew left the scene at 7:30 P.M.

Seventy-five firefighters operated 11 pumpers; two engine-tankers; one aerial; two tankers; two utilities; two ambulances and one squad at the scene. One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation. Damage to the building and contents was estimated at $500,000. The cause of the fire was determined to be accidental by the Maryland State Fire Marshal.

Firefighters faced several challenges during this incident. Manpower availability at the time of the alarm was a problem. With most volunteers having already left for the day shift and the night shift workers not home yet, a shortage existed. This was overcome by requesting additional mutual aid departments with the second and third alarms. With so many departments responding, initial accountability was an issue, but was quickly addressed.

No pre-plan existed for the building. This initially hindered firefighters in knowing what animals could be in the building and whether crews could be attacked by the animals. Zoo workers arrived soon after the firefighters and advised them of the types of animals and where they were located.

Roads in the area were closed due to hose lays and apparatus positions. This delayed a scheduled 9 A.M. meat delivery for the lions. Some apparatus and hoselines needed to be moved in order for the delivery to be made. When the zoo building is rebuilt, the fire department will have a pre-plan for it.

Lessons Learned

Make contingency plans for periods when manpower can be expected to be limited.
Update pre-plans for unusual or hazardous occupancies.
Have mutual aid procedures in place with neighboring departments.


Jay K. Bradish/IFPA, Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.