Phoenix Fire Department Chief Alan Brunacini Personnel: 1,153 career firefighters, 268 civilians Apparatus: 48 engine companies, 11 ladder companies Population: 1.1 million Area: 469.33 square miles Oct. 25, 1996, promised to be a busy day in downtown Phoenix. Presidential...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
Phoenix Fire Department
Chief Alan Brunacini
Personnel: 1,153 career
firefighters, 268 civilians
Apparatus: 48 engine companies,
11 ladder companies
Population: 1.1 million
Area: 469.33 square miles
Oct. 25, 1996, promised to be a busy day in downtown Phoenix. Presidential candidate Bob Dole was going to be in town making a speech and all the headaches of such an event, such as motorcades, blocked-off streets and large crowds, were already going to be a reality. Before Dole even started his speech, however, things got hot.
A few minutes before 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the Phoenix Fire Department alarm room started receiving calls concerning smoke in a warehouse area a few blocks away from the Dole campaign event. Engines 2 and 8 and Ladder 1 were dispatched.
Photo by Paul Albertson
Phoenix firefighters discuss how they're going to stop the flames rolling across 1st Street.
Photo by Paul Albertson
The conflagration is blown across 1st Street by 40-mph winds. The silhouette of Engine 5 can be seen at the end of the hoseline.
"When we turned on Buchanan from 1st Street, we could see the fire already in one of the warehouses about mid-block," said Captain Scott Grane on Engine 2. "We laid a supply line and set up a stang to keep fire from spreading to the east. Ladder 1 pulled in behind us. They started cutting roll-up doors."
"When we pulled up," said Captain Dave Ware of Ladder 1, "it was a lazy smoke coming out of there and the wind didn't really seem to be blowing anything like the thirty to forty mile per hour gusts later. We forced entry into overhead doors. It was fully involved. It was time to go defensive."
Battalion Chief Pete Hobel, the incident commander, circled the block to take a look. "There was smoke showing from the building. No fire. One warehouse was on fire with a separation to the next exposure of about 40-50 feet. At one time, that open area had been a warehouse and now it was just all boxes stacked in the area. It looked like one warehouse fire we could cut off."
Photo by Paul Albertson
A Phoenix firefighter stands in amazement. The fireload consisted of paper, half-empty drums of unknown substances, cardboard and numerous other combustibles.
A first alarm was called for and the first order of business was to keep the fire from spreading east to other warehouses. The hazards and complications were already mounting up. The fireload consisted of paper, half-empty drums of unknown substances, cardboard and numerous other combustibles. The warehouses were mostly built of 70-year-old red brick, lime mortar and heavy timber. Then it got worse.
"At that point," Captain Dave Ware said, "it seemed like the wind turned from just a light breeze to probably a 30-40 mile-per-hour wind."
Second-alarm units were on their way even as the situation continued to get worse. "There was a big problem from an aerial perspective with regard to power lines," said Ware, "because that's an old warehouse district, industrial area; there's a lot of power lines. That really didn't allow us a lot of good vantage points. Add fire to those poles and lines and it made things more interesting when they began to arc."
Units were being assigned as soon as they showed up in staging. The wind seemed to be getting stronger. Unfortunately, Engine 5 got caught in the way of the fast-moving fire.
"We got there six to seven minutes into the fire," said Captain Joe Ducote of Engine 5. "The only fire at the time was in the original building. We laid northbound on 1st Street, mid-block, with a straight shot down the alley with a stang gun. The wind started picking up. Once the fire hit the cardboard boxes, all hell broke loose. It was a fire tornado that came ripping up the alley probably as fast as you can run.
"When we retreated, the plug person was just coming back to the truck. We had a couple of power lines come down which made it difficult to get the truck out. Once the power had been cut off to that grid, we made efforts to get to the truck. Don Llona had already driven it where no fire was impinging on it. Jack Dale did an excellent job hitting sprinklers, which I believe saved the truck."