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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The interior crew operated inside the building for 20 minutes before exiting to change self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) bottles. Twenty-five minutes after arrival, a smoke explosion occurred. An attack team of four firefighters and Captain Dave Boddy were in the building at the time of the explosion. Etheridge ordered operations changed to a defensive mode at this time.

Truck 12 placed its ladder pipe into operation to protect the adjoining building. This was a small two-story, 1,200-square-foot wood-frame commercial building that contained offices. It was connected to the fire building by a common hallway. Truck 32 also placed its ladder pipe into operation. At 3:40, a partial collapse of the wall on the A side of the building occurred.

Two 2.5-inch lines were stretched to the top of the three-story Municipal Building, supplied by Engine 23. Three 1.5-inch lines were used at different locations around the building to extinguish small extension fires. A portable monitor was set up on the B side of the building for exposure protection. This monitor was left unmanned because of the potential for structural collapse. A rehab sector was established in a parking lot and staffed by nurses from Airlift North West Air Ambulance Service of Seattle, WA, and Capital City Fire and Rescue emergency medical technicians. This continued to operate, monitoring firefighters until noon on Aug. 16.

As the fire continued to rage, it spread to the adjoining building at 214 Seward St. Truck 32 was repositioned to the B side of the building. Three firefighters opened up the exterior wall and the automatic nozzle on the end of Truck 32's ladder was used to extinguish the fire.

Dense smoke permeated the entire downtown area, forcing a multiple-block evacuation of approximately 1,000 people by fire personnel and the Juneau Police Department. Numerous businesses and hotels were forced to close and an emergency evacuation center was established at the Centennial Hall by the Red Cross, but only 16 people used the emergency shelter.

Etheridge declared the fire under control at 3:45 A.M., on Aug. 16. The last Capital City Fire and Rescue equipment left the scene at 9:37 A.M. on Aug. 17. Sixty-one firefighters operated three engines, two aerials, one deluge monitor and numerous handlines to bring the fire under control. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the fire. No civilians were injured.

The fire occurred when more than 7,000 cruise ship passengers and crew members were scheduled to arrive at nearby docks one block away. Most tourists returned to their ships on their own and the ships left port early due to the heavy smoke conditions. At the time of the fire, the temperature was 85 degrees with no wind.

An investigation by Capital City Fire and Rescue and the Juneau Police Department determined that the fire was caused by workers applying hot tar to the roof. Investigators also determined that there was at least a 15-minute delay in calling the fire department, as workers tried to extinguish the fire. Damage was estimated at over $1 million.


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.