On The Job: Alaska - Multiple Challenges for Juneau Crews at Fire Involving Century-Old Structure

Jay K. Bradish details a blaze that destroyed a 108-year-old historic building in downtown Juneau, AK.


CAPITAL CITY FIRE AND RESCUE DEPARTMENT Chief: Eric Mohrmann Personnel: 40 career firefighters, 60 volunteer firefighters Apparatus: Six pumpers, two aerials, two rescues, three ARFF units, four ALS ambulances, three reserve pumpers Population: 30,684 Area: 3,248 square...


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CAPITAL CITY FIRE AND RESCUE DEPARTMENT

Chief: Eric Mohrmann
Personnel: 40 career firefighters, 60 volunteer firefighters
Apparatus: Six pumpers, two aerials, two rescues, three ARFF units, four ALS ambulances, three reserve pumpers
Population: 30,684
Area: 3,248 square miles

A 108-year-old historic building in downtown Juneau, AK, was destroyed by fire on Aug. 15, 2004. The structure housed mostly tourist-oriented businesses that were open and operating at the time of the fire. In heavy smoke, firefighters and police had to evacuate 1,000 people from the downtown area just as more than 7,000 cruise ship passengers and crew members were due to arrive at nearby docks just a block away.

The two-story wood-frame building was built in 1896 of balloon-type construction with a flat roof. Historically, the building was operated as a hardware store for most of its existence. In 1918, the building served as Juneau's first mortuary when the Canadian Pacific liner Princess Sofia ran aground on Oct. 24. More than 300 people perished in the shipwreck, which occurred 40 miles from Juneau.

Numerous renovations over the years created many void areas in the structure. The building also had multiple layers of plywood and asphalt roofing built up on it. Each floor of the structure contained 12,375 square feet. The building was equipped with an automatic wet sprinkler system, but not in concealed spaces. Eighteen businesses, mostly small tourist shops and eateries, occupied the building. At the time of the fire, the businesses were open and occupied. Upon arrival of the fire department, the occupants were self-evacuating.

The Capital City Fire and Rescue Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire at the Skinner Building, 213 Front St., at 2:49 P.M. Engines 11 and 23, Truck 12, a 100-foot quint, and Rescue 1 responded with five firefighters under the command of Captain Keith Walker. Engine 11 was positioned on Front Street, in front of the building, side A, and hooked onto a hydrant with 25 feet of supply line. Initially, light smoke was coming out of the eaves on both the A and B sides of the building. Minor flames were also visible in the wall on the A side on the second floor.

The fire appeared to be in exterior concealed spaces of the roof, walls and floor at this time. Engine 23 was positioned on the C side of the building and hooked on to a hydrant with a 25-foot supply line. This engine pressurized the building's sprinkler system with two 2.5-inch lines connected to the fire department connection at 150 psi. Truck 12 was positioned on the D side of the building supplied with a 600-foot supply line. Firefighters advanced a 1.5-inch pre-connect from Engine 11 into the interior of the structure. This crew entered through a second-floor window and attempted to open up the interior wall. Due to heavy construction, progress was very slow.

Firefighters left the interior and began opening the wall from the exterior. These firefighters were ordered to abandon their position on the awning when fire broke through the wall and was burning the underside of the awning from which they were operating. Rescue 1 was positioned a block away out of the smoke. Fire Marshal Richard Etheridge arrived on scene at 2:55 and took command of the incident.

At 3:20, Etheridge requested all available firefighting personnel to report to the scene. Engine 21, Truck 32, a 75-foot quint, Rescue 2, and Medic 2 and Medic 3 responded with off-duty personnel and volunteer firefighters.

Truck 32 was positioned at the A-D corner of the building and supplied with a 100-foot supply line. This aerial was placed to the roof for the ventilation team and later used as an aerial master stream. An exterior crew was assigned to open up the outside wall on the A side of the building and apply foam from Engine 11 in an effort to slow the fire's growth.

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