On The Job - Salt Lake City: Safety Fears Addressed During 4-Alarm Fire in Furniture Factory

Chief: Charles M. Querry
Apparatus: 13 engines, three aerials, seven ARFF units, one hazmat unit, one heavy rescue, eight ALS ambulances, 16 BLS ambulances, swiftwater rescue team, EMS bicycle team, seven reserve engines, three reserve aerials
Population: 181,000
Area: 111 square miles

On July 23, 2004, a four-alarm fire in downtown Salt Lake City destroyed a 115-year-old building used as a furniture manufacturing facility. This was the third multimillion-dollar fire in 40 days in the area, and because large amounts of wood products were stored at the site, a special call was made for aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) units from Salt Lake City International Airport and the Utah Air National Guard to help control the spread of the fire.

An immediate concern was a three-story apartment building located just 12 feet from the fire building. Large transformers, overhead wires and utility poles were burning when firefighters arrived, and a major concern for their safety existed until the power was shut off.

The 100-by-200-foot, one-story building was of wood-frame construction with a wood roof covered by membrane and composite roofing materials. A fenced-in, 210-by-600-foot outdoor wood-storage area also was consumed by the fire. The Salt Lake Mill and Lumber Company. operated at the location from 1884 to 1999, when it was sold to its present owners. The company specializes in wood furniture, including chairs, tables and desks. One of the companies' largest customers is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Salt Lake City Fire Department was dispatched to Jeffrey Cobate and Associates, 49 N. 600 West, at 1:05 P.M. Engines 2, 7 and 11; Truck 2, a 100-foot aerial ladder; and Utility 10, a rehab and air-supply truck, responded with 17 firefighters under the command of Battalion Chief Wayne Edginton. It was 93 degrees and dry with a 5-mph wind blowing from the northwest.

Rescue Engine 2 was the first-arriving unit at 1:09, and found fire rolling over the top of the roof along the entire length of the building and in part of the outdoor wood-storage area. Edginton was told that all employees had evacuated the building and were accounted for. Due to the advanced state of the fire, units went immediately to defensive operations.

The immediate concern confronting firefighters was the protection and evacuation of Citifront, a three-story, 53-unit apartment house that was separated from the fire building by a 12-foot alley. Police officers helped firefighters evacuate the residents of the apartments. A church located one block away from the fire served as an evacuation center staffed by American Red Cross workers.

Edginton set up a command post across the street from the incident. Rescue Engine 2 was positioned in front of the building, where firefighters put a 2.5-inch attack line into operation. The engine's deck gun was also placed into operation and a booster line was used to protect the apparatus from radiant heat. Firefighters from Rescue Engine 7 placed three 2.5-inch lines in operation to protect Citifront. Also exposed was a three-story concrete parking garage containing multiple vehicles.

Rescue Engine 11's crew laid a supply line to Citifront's entrance, then advanced five handlines through an archway to the north side of the fire building to protect the apartment building. Truck 2 was positioned in front of the structure and set up for ladder pipe operations.

Edginton called a second alarm at 1:09 P.M. Engines 6 and 9; Truck 8, a 75-foot aerial; and Hazardous Materials Unit 6 were dispatched. District Battalion Chief Mike Andrew; Administrative Assistant to the Fire Chief/PIO Dennis McKone; Safety Officer Raleigh Bunch; Video Technician Martha Ellis (who has since been promoted to ARFF training captain) and Special Operations Coordinator Dave Wharff also responded.

Second-alarm companies were assigned to exposure operations. Engine 9 laid a supply line into the Citifront parking lot and placed its ladder pipe into operation and Truck 8's ladder pipe protected a small machine shop and a large industrial building. Firefighters from Engine 6 placed two handlines in operation for exposure protection. Edginton requested a third alarm at 1:17 P.M. Engines 4, 8 and 14; Truck 5, a 100-foot aerial; six fire investigators; Deputy Chiefs C.J. Lawrence and Larry Littleford, and Chief of Department Charles M. Querry responded.

Rescue Engine 4 operated handlines at the fenced-in storage facility and Rescue Engine 8 laid a five-inch supply line from a hydrant on South Temple to a position adjacent to the large industrial building on South Temple. A five-inch line also was laid from Rescue Engine 8 to Truck 8 to supply its ladder pipe operations. Firefighters also advanced a 2.5-inch attack line to protect the southern exposures and assist in extinguishing some of the large stock piles of wood.

Truck 5 was positioned on North Temple at the entrance to the Citifront apartment building and set up for ladder pipe operations. This aerial was supplied with a five-inch line from Engine 11. The crew from this unit was assigned as the interior crew in the Citifront building for search and rescue operations. When this was completed, the crew was assigned to the interior for exposure protection. These firefighters pulled ceilings and walls on the exposed side to ensure there was no fire spread to the apartment building. Lines were laid to augment the building's sprinkler system and high-rise packs were taken inside, but were never needed.

Rescue Engine 14 laid a five-inch line from North Temple to the west side of the parking garage. Firefighters operated a pair of 2.5-inch attack lines and a booster line from this unit to extinguish vehicle fires, protect exposures in the parking garage and to perform suppression operations on the west side of the fire. Once the vehicle fires were extinguished, firefighters shut off the sprinkler system in the parking garage.

Edginton requested a fourth alarm at 1:25 P.M., bringing Engine 10 and Rescue Engine 5 to the scene. Engine 10 provided extra manpower for handline operations. Rescue Engine 5's manpower was assigned to relieve Engine 9.

Because of the large amount of stored wood products, a special call was made for two ARFF units from Salt Lake City International Airport and one ARFF unit from the Utah Air National Guard stationed at the airport. One Oshkosh 3000 with a snorkel from the airport was used to help control the spread of the fire. An Oshkosh DA1500 from the airport carrying 3,000 gallons of water and 250 gallons of foam helped to knock down the large volume of fire. The National Guard unit was also used for suppression operations. ARFF Captain Tom Pace from the airport responded to coordinate the ARFF units with incident command.

On the third and fourth alarms, command requested mutual aid units from the Unified Fire Authority (UFA) and the Sandy Fire Department, South Davis Fire District, South Salt Lake Fire Department and West Jordan Fire Department. One engine each from South Salt Lake and UFA responded to the scene and their crews were used for relief. An air-supply unit from the UFA also responded. Other mutual aid units filled in at Salt Lake City stations to provide fire and EMS protection for the city.

Edginton declared the fire under control at 3:01 P.M. Mutual aid departments were released at 6:46 P.M. The last Salt Lake City apparatus left the scene at 4:12 P.M. on July 24, some 27 hours after the initial alarm.

Investigators from the Salt Lake City Fire Department, UFA Fire Investigation Task Force and Murray Fire Department determined the cause of the fire to be accidental. Twenty-eight vehicles were damaged in the parking garage. Total damage was estimated at $5 million.

This was the third major fire to occur in the area within 40 days. On July 16, a $5.5 million fire destroyed a South Salt Lake warehouse containing rolls of paper. A few weeks earlier, a $1.5 million fire destroyed a lumber yard. Both of those fires were determined to be acts of arson.

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.